Shuls, Stores Could Be Reopened for All Next Week; Purim Restrictions Still Unclear

YERUSHALAYIM -
An outdoor minyan in Yerushalayim. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shopping malls, gyms, hotels and other facilities could be opened to those vaccinated from early next week, while shuls and street-front stores could be opened to the general public, according to reports on Sunday night.

The Coronavirus Cabinet convened on Sunday to discuss a plan to further reopen the economy after a lengthy lockdown, as daily infection rates continued their slide down.

Blue and White party is pushing for additional lockdown restrictions to be lifted this week, after some rules were eased last week. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein (Likud) was insisting that most businesses remain shut until next week, according to a report on Channel 12, but was said to be willing to move up the reopening of some parts of the economy to Sunday, rather than next Tuesday.

According to the current government plan, on Feb. 23, next Tuesday, shuls and street-front stores could be reopened to the entire public, along with grades 5-6 and 11-12 in low-infection areas going back to school, Channel 12 reported. For the vaccinated, malls, markets, gyms, pools, museums and hotels (without dining) would be reopened. Gatherings would be limited to 10 people indoors and 20 outdoors.

In the second stage, on March 9, grades 7-10 would reopen in low-infection areas, and moderately infected cities and towns where over 70% of the population is vaccinated would resume in-person classes. Some restaurants would be reopened to the general population. For the vaccinated, restaurants, hotels with buffets, event halls, conferences and other attractions would be accessible. Permitted gatherings would be expanded to 20 indoors and 50 outdoors.

Channel 12 also reported on the government’s planned efforts to encourage or even force vaccination, which face numerous legal challenges.

The steps include proposed legislation to allow the government to share information on non-vaccinated individuals with local authorities; financial incentives for doctors who secure vaccination of over 50s; financial benefits for local authorities based on local vaccination rates; and mandatory vaccines, or required frequent testing, for teachers, drivers, nd medical staff.

The plan to mandate vaccines for some professions was reportedly raised by the Health Ministry in Sunday’s Coronavirus Cabinet meeting.

Addressing the ministers on Sunday, coronavirus commissioner Nachman Ash expressed “cautious optimism” about the infection rates, though he said the number of seriously ill was dropping at a slower pace than anticipated.

“There is a drop in morbidity, but looking forward, we must be careful not to reopen irresponsibly, which will cause infections to rise,” said Ash.

Ash said he was “very, very troubled” by the prospect of mass violations over Purim, with health officials set to recommend a nighttime curfew during the festival to prevent gatherings.

The government will likely reimpose restrictions on public activity ahead of Purim, Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch said Monday, hinting that perhaps a fourth nationwide lockdown may be necessary.

“We are very concerned about Purim,” Kisch said in an interview Monday morning. “We will have to put some restrictions.”

“Purim naturally leads to mass gatherings, rejoicing – things that cannot be done during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We won’t celebrate this Purim as if everything is fine. In order to be able to celebrate Pesach properly, we have to carefully follow the rules during Purim. The infection rate is still high.”

Kish also refused to rule out a fourth lockdown.

“Everything is on the table. Everything. I want to say that as clearly as possible from now already. We will deliberate on possible alternatives in the coming days, and we’ll make a decision in the Health Ministry and bring it to the Coronavirus Cabinet. It will either be to back a lockdown, a curfew at night, or stricter restrictions on gatherings.”