The Israeli government approved a list of measures easing restrictions on Saturday evening, hours before they were due to take effect, in the third phase of the exit from the coronavirus lockdown.
As of Sunday, middle-school students will return to school in some areas, and college and university classes will resume on campus for the vaccinated. In addition, Israelis will now be able to fly back to Israel without having to go through a special committee to do so.
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Furthermore, restaurants, coffee shops and event halls will be able to open with restrictions. General gatherings are limited to 20 people inside and 50 people outside.
Under the new plan, Israelis who found themselves stuck abroad after Israel shuttered its borders to its citizens would be able to return through flights from Frankfurt, London, New York, and Paris. Toronto, Hong Kong and Kiev are expected to be added to the list later this coming week.
Initially, 1,000 Israelis would be allowed in per day, with the number expected to increase to 3,000 later in the week.
Israelis who don’t have a 'green pass' (a certificate of vaccination) or recovered from COVID, will need permission to leave the country through a special committee.
Returning citizens will no longer have to quarantine in government-run hotels. They will be required to take a coronavirus test, and those who haven’t been vaccinated will have to quarantine at home.
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Students in Grades 7 through 10 will return to school in areas where infection rates are low enough. These students are the last to return to school, after staying home for nine weeks since the third lockdown began in December. These grades have been in school for a total of about three weeks since the school year began in September.
The restrictions limit classes to up to 20 children, and permit children to participate in no more than two groups, which means that in practice most children will be in school only two or three days a week.
The government also approved the opening of restaurants and cafés, allowing up to a total of 100 guests inside and outside. Guests without a vaccination certificated or green pass will only be allowed to sit outside. Groups of people at restaurants and bars will be required to sit at least two meters apart. Event halls will be allowed to open at 50 percent capacity, with up to 300 people. Up to five percent in attendance will be permitted to enter after showing a negative coronavirus test instead of a vaccination certificate.
Institutions that require a green pass will also allow for babies up to one year of age to enter.
Hotels are allowed to open dining rooms, with no more than 300 people allowed in the room at the same time.
Cultural and sports events, as well as houses of worship, can have 500 people in closed buildings and 750 in open areas.
Stadiums and event halls with a capacity of 10,000 guests are allowed to admit 1,000 guests indoors and 1,500 for outdoor events.
University campuses may reopen Sunday for Israelis with a vaccination certificate. Classes of up to 300 students will be allowed, or up to 75 percent capacity. Online learning will continue for students who are not vaccinated.
Classes will resume within the ‘green pass’ framework, which would include students who have received both coronavirus vaccinations, paired with a socially-distanced classroom arrangement. However, university sources said it’s possible that in-person classes may resume only after the Passover break.
In addition, Israel is dropping limits on how many people can travel in a private vehicle, along with the requirement to have one’s temperature taken and to answer health-related questions in order to enter public places.
The fine for violating the new restrictions is being set at 5,000 shekels.
Meanwhile, the vaccination campaign for Palestinian workers with permits to work in Israel and Israeli settlements in the West Bank scheduled to begin on Sunday will be postponed due to budgetary issues.
According to sources familiar with the matter, funding for the campaign was originally intended to come from the Health Ministry’s budget. But on Thursday night, following a decision by Finance Minister Yisrael Katz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, funding for the drive was instead tacked on to an inter-ministerial budget for wide-ranging coronavirus-related expenditures, which has not yet been approved by the government. There is concern this inter-ministerial budget won’t be approved at the next cabinet meeting due to disagreements with Kahol Lavan, the sources said.
No new date has been set for the start of the campaign. The postponement took contractors and those involved in the campaign by surprise, as they had believed that the budget for it had already been approved.
On Thursday night, a pilot for the campaign was held at the Sha’ar Ephraim checkpoint near Tul Karm in the West Bank, during which 700 Palestinian workers were vaccinated, according to the Israeli military.
Vaccines from Moderna had been allocated for the 120,000 Palestinian workers. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said on Wednesday that the inoculations would take place at compounds placed at eight checkpoints in the West Bank and in four settlements.
According to the plan announced on Wednesday, the Palestinian workers are to be vaccinated on a voluntary basis, and COGAT said they had explained to employers they are not allowed to force employees to vaccinate. Employers will be responsible for scheduling appointments and they will not be allowed to come to the compounds independently.
The vaccination centers, staffed by Israeli medical teams and representatives of the Civil Administration and the Defense Ministry’s Crossing Points Authority, were to be set up on the Israeli side of the checkpoints. The idea was for the workers to receive a shot as they return home to the West Bank after work and the plan was to operate them through Israeli medical teams in cooperation with representatives of the Civil Administration and the Defense Ministry.
The Israeli authorities said they also plan a campaign to encourage workers to get vaccinated and refute conspiracy theories concerning the vaccine, which have been spreading on social media. One of those portrays the workers as “lab rats.”