Some stores in Israel could open as soon as Sunday, says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's chief financial advisor, Prof. Avi Simhon, as the cabinet prepared to meet Thursday to discuss the exit plan for the coronavirus crisis.
With the exception of supermarkets and pharmacies, all shops in Israel have been shut for weeks as part of efforts to combat the spread of the highly infectious virus.
Simhon said that starting from Sunday, local shops will start to reopen gradually, but warned that data showing the result of such action takes weeks to be gathered.
"We will examine the data in the weeks after [the reopenings] to decide the next plan of action," he said this week.
"We can't talk about specific dates," said Simhon. "There are talks between the Finance Ministry, the Bank of Israel and the Health Ministry."
"The person to give the final word is Netanyahu – we will hold further talks with him and he will decide what, when and how."
Simhon stressed that there is not one clear plan and that as more data comes in, the prime minister will calculate the correct strategy.
He said that the aim was also to reopen malls after the local stores, "but that's going to take time."
"I project it will not happen in April, but maybe in May, it all depends on the numbers and citizens' discipline to directives," he said. "We also want to free up the restrictions on offices, high-tech companies and industry."
Simhon said, however, that the issue currently not on the table is immediately restarting the education system.
"It's probably not going to happen next week," he said. "Some say we don't need to do anything next week, but we [Netanyahu's advisers] think otherwise."
Education, health and finance experts have been working in recent days on a number of plans to facilitate the reopening of schools, trying to find common ground.
He said that "the main issue with such an action is that even if it's small groups of students, one infected person can infect everyone else, and in turn they can infect their families and we have a mass spread of the virus.
"One of the most important decisions we have to make is about special ed classes, but whether classes reopen or not is again up to the prime minister, and he still hasn't made a decision on the matter."
Simhon echoed Education Ministry Director-General Shmuel Abuav, who this week wrote to Education Ministry officials that students would only study in small groups in well-ventilated areas.
"If schools do open, it will not be in the same manner to which we were accustomed," said Simhon. "They will be opened gradually. We are thinking of having parents get together to watch over [groups of] kids to free one another up to go to work, but allowing them go to school as they did a month ago is going to take time."
Simhon also praised Israelis' adherence to public health directives.
"Many had expected that they wouldn't listen to them, but that has not been the case," he said.
"People have shown a lot of discipline, the result of which is the decline of confirmed patients over the past two weeks – which we believe will allow the shelter-at-home order to be lifted."
The only part of such a plan already approved is for special ed students to return to school on April 19, but in a staggered manner.
With regards to restaurants, cinemas and sporting events, Simhon said that the cabinet is trying to work out a way to allow them somehow to return to normalcy in the near future.
"I don't know how a restaurant can function with a mandatory two-meter distance between the tables, we're trying to figure these things out," he said.
"We must ask ourselves how we get out of this lockdown bit by bit, act with caution so far and not lose control over the situation."