Israel begins to relax coronavirus restrictions
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Israel begins to relax coronavirus restrictions

Stores that sell electronics, home appliances and office equipment are back in business, but they must follow specific rules

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi-JINIPIX
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi-JINIPIX

Lockdown restrictions in Israel began to ease this week, with some shops, synagogues and workplaces reopening as protests flared across the country.

Rattled cabinet ministers said people could go outside and play sports in couples, and that many shops not in shopping malls could reopen, in a set of phase one announcements affecting roughly 30 percent of the workforce.

Children with special educational needs can return to school while groups of up to three families are being allowed to share childcare services, in a phased return to life that may yet prove to be a template for the UK and other states.

Pressure to lift the lid on restrictions had increased markedly in recent days, with dramatic protests on Sunday led by hundreds of self-employed small business owners who have been particularly hard hit by the lockdown.

Health Ministry guidelines still prohibit outdoor markets and the reopening of stores selling clothing, shoes and toys, with beaches, parks, playgrounds and municipal sports areas also remaining closed and most schools continuing online learning.

However public transport is increasing to meet the rising commercial activity and up to 19 people at a time are being allowed to gather outside synagogues to worship together, on the condition that they all wear face masks.

Protesters gathering near the Knesset in Jerusalem vented their anger over lost earnings by blocking roads and setting tyres on fire, before moving on to President Reuven Rivlin’s official residence.

The Finance Ministry is being urged to improve the grants and Rivlin cut a sympathetic note, saying: “This is an emergency situation which is like war, and we must see the big picture without abandoning anyone.”

Protesters and opposition politicians also massed in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square angered by anti-democratic measures passed during the coronavirus crisis, as the number of patients on ventilators dropped to just 109.

However one minister, speaking anonymously to Israeli news outlet Ma’ariv, warned against complacency, saying: “The public is liable to interpret the eased restrictions as a return to normal life and might not maintain the rules of social distancing and the lockdown. That is liable to lead to a large-scale outbreak.”

They added that “the objective of the eased restrictions is to facilitate commerce and employment, not leisure activity”.

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