Israel mulls reopening its gyms and public swimming pools, shut down last week following a surge in new coronavirus cases, after people swarmed hotel pools over the weekend, prompting claims of arbitrary closures.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's cabinet last week voted to shut down all gyms and public pools as well as bars, nigh clubs and event halls, as the number of COVID-19 diagnoses continues to exceed 1,000 cases a day.
Swimming pools at hotels and fitness studios, however, were allowed to stay open, prompting claims from business owners the government doesn't conduct proper research about how the virus spreads before making these decisions, which tend to have drastic financial implications.
The Knesset's Coronavirus Committee is set to convene later on Sunday to vote on the decision to reopen all public pools and gyms after an appeal by opposition factions in the parliament. The factions presented the committee with a research, which shows that less than 2% of all coronavirus infections so far were contracted in either swimming pools or gyms.
On Saturday, scores of people swarmed the Herods hotel pool in Tel Aviv, while the neighboring Gordon public pool remained empty.
The committee's head, MK Yifat Shasha-Biton, said in an interview with Ynet last week, that she will vote to lift the closures if the government doesn't provide any relevant data for the continued closure of gyms and swimming pools.
"There is an arbitrary decision here – a hotel pool should be no different than an outdoor pool," said Prof. Ronit Calderon-Margalit of Hadassah School of Public Health at the Hebrew University.
In addition, The Swimming Pools Managers Association petitioned the High Court of Justice to allow the pools to stay open since there is no data to support the claim that the virus "can spread via contact with water."
The petition emphasized the government's decision harms the owners of public pools and their 120,000 employees, suppliers and the swimmers who will be forced to give up their daily activities.
President of the Swimming Pools Managers Association Nir Oz said the government's decision is nothing less than discrimination. "They reopened hotels, it is a political decision because Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir said that if hotel pools are closed, the hotels will have to shutter as well."
Asaf Be Haim, the owner of 13 public swimming pools, also blamed the government. "All hotels sell entry tickets and let outsiders in, which for all intends and purposes makes it a public swimming pool."
Zion Hillel, the owner of seven swimming pools and two gyms said, "it is simply unfair to close public swimming pools and allow hotel pools to remain open. Is it economically correct to close down public swimming pools and not those in hotels? We are at the peak of the summer season and even without the closure things were bad, since the government canceled all summer camps, parties and events."
According to Hillel, he had to let go no less than 48 employees. "I had tears in my eyes, these are minimum wage employees who live from paycheck to paycheck. To shut down a pool during summer is madness. It hurts, it is simply unbelievable."