With moderate numbers of people affected compared to much of the world (171 deaths and just over 13,000 infected), Israel considers the worst phase of the coronavirus pandemic to be over and begins today (a working day in this country) a staggered return to normal.
The streets in cities like Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or Modiin dawned with the movement of cars and people. Cafeterias and restaurants reopened, and also part of the retail trade, after weeks of severe restrictions that even reached curfews during two holidays of the Passover (Passover).
In the center of the west part of Jerusalem, such as the Yafa and Ben Yehuda pedestrian streets, you could see fast food shops, jewelers, opticians or souvenir shops with employees cleaning and preparing the premises to reopen after having closed on March 15 . Tourism, however, will take time to return, since flights are still limited and the sector is paralyzed worldwide.
People who walked the streets – much less than in normal times – tried to distance themselves from others and almost all wore face masks, after the announcement that they will be fined 200 shekels (about 50 euros) if they do not wear them.
In addition to food and restaurant stores, furniture, home goods, electricity, communications, bookstores, laundries, and sports equipment stores can open as of today, provided they are on the street. Those of clothing, shoe stores and toy stores will have to wait for a later phase. Shopping centers, where there is a greater concentration of people in a closed space, still cannot open.
The flow of public transport, which had been low with restrictions, also increases.
One of those who was preparing to return to the activity this morning is Simón Atias, cook and owner of Pizzería 770, in the city center. He explains that he opened the business a year ago and that in the last month and a half his turnover has dropped to 20% of normal. But he is optimistic and hopes to gradually regain momentum.
“We also learn from this situation. It is difficult for everyone,” he says optimistically to Efe as he cleans and organizes his establishment to reopen it tomorrow, Monday, and that at first he will only sell takeout food.
He had three employees, but given the precarious financial situation, for the next few weeks he will work alone.
Another place where they yearn to recover normality is the Nocturno bar-restaurant, emblematic for the live concerts that it organized almost daily.
“This past month we had to cancel 40 events,” the owner of the locala, Amit Schetcher, laments in statements to Efe, who is confident that the sector can rise and that the Government allows the access of customers in bars and restaurants with certain conditions from May.
In companies and industry, 30% of the workforce is allowed to go to work, with a maximum of ten people, but more may be employed if they have the “purple label”, which is achieved in a “self-regulated” manner. That is, companies are trusted to grant it to themselves in compliance with regulations, but lying about this will be considered a crime.
To have it, businesses must designate a person responsible for coronavirus, ensure that hygiene and distance regulations are met (two meters between people), take temperature when entering, facilitate transportation for employees, that there are no more than two workers each 20 square meters, close a business area if there is someone infected and prohibit the concentration of people in kitchens and rest areas.
At the family and educational level, from today special education is allowed in groups of up to three children, up to three families will be allowed to share childcare services and everyone will be allowed to go out to do sports in pairs.
Regarding freedom of worship, the number of people who may be praying outside the synagogues, churches or mosques is extended to 19, as long as they all wear face masks and respect the two-meter distance between them.
The Israeli Finance Ministry reported today that in two weeks more restrictions will be lifted, provided the number of infected remains stable. “This is the beginning, if we continue to see positive trends I hope that after Independence Day (April 29) we will be able to reopen all the shops, complying with the new restrictions (on hygiene and social distance),” said Shaul Meridor, director of the Budgeting branch of that Ministry.
Today mobility is also extended to 500 meters from the home, which was limited to 100 and weddings and funerals with less than 20 people will be allowed.
Israel decreed the partial closure of economic activity, the requirement of quarantines and other preventive measures in mid-March, before the country registered the first deceased, on the 21st, and with less than two hundred infections.
Joan Mas Autonell and Ana Cárdenes