Cabinet Compromise on Reopening Businesses Expected; Concern for Purim

Police at a temporary roadblock outside Yerushalayim on January 19. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

With morbidity rates among high-risk groups dropping amid Israel’s rapid vaccination campaign, ministers are reportedly on track to reach a compromise deal at the Coronavirus Cabinet meeting Sunday evening to reopen shuttered Israeli commerce earlier than the planned February 23 target date.

Health officials and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu were initially expected to clash with Defense Minister Benny Gantz over his call for reopening businesses this week.

While the Health Ministry was said to have been adamant that no new moves should be made before February 23, a position supported by the premier, it is now reportedly willing to meet Gantz somewhere in the middle.

Gantz reportedly said he believes the falling morbidity rates mean the government can allow suffering businesses to begin emerging from the closure immediately.

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry said Sunday morning that 1,896 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 the previous day, a significantly lower number attributable to reduced testing over the weekend. The positivity rate stood at 7.8%, consistent with rates from last week.

The total number of cases since the pandemic started hit 723,038, including 60,976 active cases. They include 1,008 serious cases, including 378 in critical condition and 284 on ventilators.

The death toll reached 5,368.

According to a reported proposal presented to ministers last week, the next stage for commerce would enable opening nonessential street-front stores for all citizens. It would also allow more age groups to return to school, while malls, gyms, hotel rooms, museums, cultural events and more would reopen for carriers of a “green pass” — a permit for those who have been inoculated or who have recovered from COVID-19.

The pass will possibly include those who have a negative coronavirus test result from within the previous 48-72 hours, though that issue, and the legal ramifications of limiting access to certain people to some activities, is still being examined.

Ministers will also discuss Sunday the further reopening of the education system, and may approve grades 1-4 returning to class outdoors in cities with high infection rates, as well as vaccinated students in grades 11-12 returning to indoor studies everywhere, Health Ministry officials said Sunday morning.

Speaking to Radio 103 on Sunday morning, coronavirus commissioner Nachman Ash said that limitations would continue beyond February 23, warning that Purim was a cause for concern.

Last year’s Purim is believed to have been a major contributor to Israel’s first wave of infections.

“The possibility of imposing a night curfew or closure on Purim exists, but I do not think we need to get into this situation,” he said. “If we seem to be going for something uncontrollable that it could affect the morbidity trend in a bad way, we may recommend it. I do not want to get there.”

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