Traders fume as police shutter markets over coronavirus

Local business owners say Health Ministry regulations unclear; PM holds consultations to devise financial plan as outbreak continues to wreak havoc on Israel's economy

Roi Rubinstein, Gilad Cohen|
The Health Ministry's new regulations prohibiting the operation of markets in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus came into effect Sunday, causing much confusion and anger among merchants and patrons.
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  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced new tighter regulations on Friday but said they would not apply to open-air markets.
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    Police officers walking through an empty Carmel Market in Tel Aviv
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Tel Aviv's Carmel market was shut down Sunday morning by police. Some traders arrived in early the morning despite the new regulations coming into effect, hoping that some customers would be buying.
    But at 9:30am, police and municipality inspectors entered the market compound in large numbers, demanding that all merchants immediately close their businesses and warning of fines for whoever failed to comply.
    "Our spirits are not too high. Thousands of families are affected by this, but we must respect the decision," said Itzik, the owner of a souvenir stall.
    "This is just the beginning, and we understand that there's a problem with this virus. God sneezed and the entire world has gone mad ever since," he said.
    "This is damaging for many people who struggle to make ends meet and now you're finishing them off," said one trader, known by the moniker "Yina'al Ha'Olam" (to hell with the world).
    Police shut down Carmel Market

    Moshe owns a bakery in the market and had been working since the early morning hours when he was shut down by police. He pointed an accusing finger at the heads of Israel's two largest parties, who are currently battling for control of the Knesset.
    "At least let us finish this day," he said. "Now everything will probably go in the trash or we'll find somewhere to donate it. What kind of government is this? Either they close the entire country or don't. [Likud leader Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Blue & White chief Benny] Gantz don’t care about the country, only themselves."
    Disgruntled patrons also shared their discontent over the new regulations, with some even questioning how a market operating under the open sky is any more dangerous than a supermarket.
    "You can't stand at a distance of two meters from someone at the supermarket and about a thousand different people touch your food," said a local who often shops at the market. "The food here is hygienic and delicious, it's the best."
    In Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market, the traders' union told its members to open as usual, before being shut down by police as well several hours later.
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    Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem stands empty after police shut it down
    (Photo: Gil Yochanan)
    Union leader Tali Friedman said she was told that the market would operate as usual on Sunday and instructed the traders to open up in the morning, but police arrived at around noon and shut it down.
    "The prime minister's new orders should allow Mahane Yehuda market to stay open, there is no place safer than Mahane Yehuda," said Friedman. "Taiwan and Singapore didn't close their markets and there's no reason for Israel to close its markets."
    "We thought the instructions we got on Friday meant we opened as usual, but we don't really know," said Rami, owner of a pickle stall.
    "What good would it do to open the market if people are not allowed out of the house anyway? The market is much safer than the crowded supermarkets."
    Netanyahu on Sunday conducted a round of consolations to devise a strategic economic plan as well as an updated, extensive and significant relief package including assistance for the self-employed, wage earners, businesses and households.
    Several of these plans will be submitted for Knesset approval.
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