Israelis streamed to malls, streetside shops, gyms and cultural centers on Sunday as the government began the first phase of the exit from the shutdown that kept much of the country on hold for over five weeks.
At the same time, classrooms were filling up again. Grades 5-6, and 11-12 were permitted to resume in-person studies in low- and medium-infection cities. Kindergartens and grades 1-4 have previously opened in cities designated as low-infection “green” and “yellow” in the government’s color-coding system for morbidity rates.
The reopening came amid positive data emerging on the coronavirus infection rates. Health Ministry were practically euphoric over the success of the vaccines, calling them “dramatically” effective, with an efficacy rate of 98.9% in preventing contraction of the virus.
The IDF Intelligence taskforce said Sunday that Israel’s R-value, the reproduction number of the virus that measures transmission, or the number of new cases stemming from each coronavirus infection, had dropped from 0.85 last week to 0.79.
Health officials have stated that an R-number below 0.8 was necessary for an easement of restrictions.
However, coronavirus commissioner Nachman Ash was on hand to warn against excess optimism.
“I am happy to see the data, but it should be treated carefully so that the public does not make a mistake and think that it is possible to behave however you want,” he said.
The mood in public spaces on Sunday was generally celebrative but not reckless. “Though shoppers largely adhered to health guidelines, in some cases people were seen to crowd and fail to maintain social distancing,” The Times of Israel reported.
In Yerushalayim, at the Hadar Mall, for example, in some places shoppers were standing on line to get in, an exigency of Health Ministry directives still limiting the number of customers that can be in a store at one time.
Employees at the mall were enthusiastic. “We waited a long time for this moment,” Shir, a worker at the Steve Madden footwear store, told The Jerusalem Post. “There is a lot of excitement, and people are already starting to come in this morning.”
Hadar Mall CEO Liron Elkayam emphasized the management’s taking a responsible approach: “We put a lot of effort into preparing for this day, cleaning, planning where people can and can’t sit, and coordinating with security to make sure they take people’s temperature as they enter, and don’t allow them in if they aren’t wearing their mask properly.”
“We worked with people from the Health Ministry, walking them through the mall to make sure we met every one of their requirements,” Elkayam said. “We have people circulating throughout the mall to enforce the rules, making sure people have masks over their nose and that they don’t gather together too closely. We are working at the highest level to make sure everyone is in compliance.”
“There is nothing scary about being here,” said Amitai Koretz, a Yerushalayim resident who was shopping with his child. “Hopefully the reopening will go well, and the vaccine will keep things from getting out of hand again. I’m glad the kids are back in school, and I hope that will bring some normalcy to our lives.”