Business owners, parents and officials in Israel’s education system have slammed the government's lockdown exit strategy as a "catastrophe", saying it will lead to the collapse of small businesses and will inflict a serious blow to schools.
The Health Ministry’s new exit strategy from the current nationwide lockdown, which was published on Sunday night, consists of nine phases with each lifting restrictions on specific industries.
According to the outline, each phase is set to last for two weeks, given the number of new daily virus cases does not dramatically increase, and the infection coefficient is not higher than 0.8.
The first phase, which is expected to begin next week, will allow people to leave home beyond one kilometer (allowing for protests to take place once again), kindergartens will reopen, workplaces with no interaction with the public will be allowed to reopen, the ban on meetings of nuclear family members will be lifted, beaches will reopen for leisure and Ben Gurion Airport will also begin operating.
The second phase, which is expected to begin on November 2, will lift the ban on non- medical treatments and alternative medicine. The education system will reopen further, but only with the return of grades one through four to in-class studies.
The chairman of the national parens union, Merom Schiff, slammed the outline, saying it makes no sense for shopping malls to reopen and travel abroad to resume before the reopening of schools for grades four and up.
“It is inconceivable that the country is giving up on an entire generation,” said Schiff. “It is sad to see Israel has placed education at the bottom of priorities. Frontal studies should be opened in kindergartens and elementary schools in parallel with the reopening of workplaces, before the reopening of malls and resumption of flights.”
In the third phase, which is expected to begin on November 15 if the number of new daily cases drops to at least 500, the government is set to lift the restrictions on trade (opening up malls and markets), workplaces that have interaction with the public and synagogues.
In the fourth phase, which will begin on November 29, provided the number of new daily infections does not exceed 250 and the contagion rate drops to 2%, restaurants, cafes and gyms will be allowed to reopen.
Tomer Mor, the chairman of "Restaurateurs Strong Together" group, which represents restaurant, pub and bar owners, said that putting off the reopening of these businesses until the end of November would cause hundreds to close their businesses.
"This is a catastrophe," he said. "The end of November is basically the beginning of winter. Every day that passes is a debt that can't be repaid and the government must understand this,” said Mor.
“Restaurants must be reopened for takeaways and outdoor dining in the near future … Otherwise, the 150,000 workers in this industry will continue to suffer economic damages, in addition to being unemployed for months."
Gym owners have also voiced their disappointment with the new outline, which they claim blatantly ignores the data about the number of COVID-19 cases that originated in gyms.
Nir Oz, the chairman of the Association of Managers of Swimming Pools, Sports and Recreation Centers said fitness centers keep track of each visitor and have strict health rules.
“Inside the gyms we've imposed very strict restrictions," he said. "We know at any given moment who is coming in and what his name is. This is how we maintain the health of every person who comes in. There is no reason not to allow us to reopen. Gyms are reopening all over the world.”
The fifth phase, which is expected to begin on December 13, will see hotels and swimming pools reopen as well.
The domestic tourism industry has also voiced its displeasure with the outline, which allows Ben Gurion Airport to reopen before any Israel-based resort.
"The hotels that managed to stay afloat have suffered a severe blow during the second closure that all but wiped out the period of the Tishrei holidays," said the president of the Israel Hotels Association, Amir Haik. "There is no logical reason to allow Israelis to travel to hotels in Greece … and not to hotels operating according to the restrictions set and approved by the Israeli Health Ministry.”
In the sixth phase, planned to begin on December 27, grades 5-12 will return to frontal studies.
In the seventh phase, planned for January 10, cultural venues will be allowed to reopen, as well as the entertainment industry, conferences and exhibitions.
In the eight phase, which is set to begin on January 24, gatherings such as weddings will be allowed to take place, with the reopening of event halls and venues.
In the ninth and last phase, which is expected to begin on February 7, restrictions on sporting events will be lifted and night clubs will reopen.