Israel to begin easing coronavirus restrictions

PM Netanyahu announced that Israel will gradually ease its coronavirus lockdown from Sunday by letting some businesses reopen and relaxing curbs on movement after a slowdown in infection rates.

Authorities have steadily tightened a partial lockdown imposed on March 14, shuttering offices, closing schools and ordering people to stay mostly at home.

The measures have battered Israel’s economy, forced many businesses to close and sent unemployment above 25%.

“Our good results enable us today to start taking steps in the opposite direction – not a tightening, but an easing,” PM Netanyahu said.

The number of coronavirus infections in Israel has risen to 13,265 as of Saturday evening, with 164 fatalities and 164 people in serious condition, including 113 patients on ventilators.

However, infection rates have generally declined over the past two weeks, according to Israeli health ministry data.

Beginning on Sunday, workplace staffing levels can increase to 30% from 15% and some shops will be allowed to reopen, though malls and large markets will remain closed, Netanyahu said.

From the start of the crisis, Israelis have been allowed to travel to grocery stores, pharmacies and some workplaces, but were prohibited from walking more than 100 meters from their homes.

Under the new rules, the 100-meter restriction will be expanded to 500 meters, the prime minister said. Open-air prayers in groups of 10 will also be permitted, though worshippers must maintain social distancing and wear face masks, he added.

Schools, except for limited special education classes, will remain closed.

Netanyahu’s cabinet will vote on the relaxed measures later on Saturday.