Knesset Approves Next Phase of Easements Ahead of Schedule

YERUSHALAYIM -
View of the parking lot and shops in the outdoor mall Bilu Center, in Kiryat Ekron, Tuesday, as the government allows a partial reopening. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Despite jitteriness about a slight rise in coronavirus rates, the Knesset on Wednesday approved the reopening of zoos, restaurants, large outdoor strip malls and destinations inside the specially created “tourist islands” in Eilat and the Dead Sea area.

The Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, chaired by MK Yaakov Asher (United Torah Judaism) approved the easements that had been endorsed by the cabinet.

The coronavirus cabinet raised the raise the limit on in-store shoppers to above four customers at a time, depending on their size, after Asher urged them to do so.

Entry into the “tourist islands” will be allowed for those who underwent a coronavirus test during the preceding 72 hours and got a negative result. Residents of Eilat who wish to enter or reenter the city will have to present a test result from the preceding week or undergo an on-the-spot test at the entrance to the city. Other tourist sites across the country will remain closed until further notice.

Health Ministry officials are unhappy with the latest easing of restrictions, Channel 12 reported Tuesday, and are warning that a surge in infections will necessitate their reversal within two or three weeks, according to The Times of Israel.

The officials pointed out that, contrary to plans, the government was not waiting two weeks between phases of reopening to check that infections weren’t spreading again.

They are particularly concerned about the easements going forward even as the basic R rate — the average number of people each virus carrier infects — has exceeded 1.0, when 0.8 had been defined as the threshold for proceeding with reopenings.

Several coronavirus hotspots will not benefit from the easements. Arrabe, located in northern Israel, will be a “restricted zone” for the next five days, the Prime Minister’s Office and Health Ministry announced Wednesday night.

Restrictions will go into effect on Thursday at 5:00 p.m.

In Taybeh, north of Yerushalayim, police on patrol came upon an engagement party when they went to investigate a loud commotion. As they approached the house, the lights were turned off and the attendees fled. Police fined the host 5,000 shekels for violating Health Ministry regulations.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry said Wednesday night that 426 new coronavirus cases had been diagnosed since the start of the day, with 1.7% of tests returning positive.

The national case total since the start of the pandemic stood at 326,200, with 8,148 of them still active.

The death toll rose to 2,738, with one fatality reported Wednesday.

There were 308 Israelis in serious condition, a drop of 14 from Wednesday’s tally.