Israel Prepares COVID-19 Exit Strategy

Today has seen the lifting of a curfew that has been in place for much of the Passover holiday in Israel, intended to help contain the spread of COVID-19. The ban on travelling between cities came to an end early this morning.

Parts of Jerusalem and the whole community of Bnei Brak have been under particularly severe restrictions having been hotspots for infections, but there is some easing of measures even in those places.

A temporary checkpoint in JerusalemA temporary checkpoint in Jerusalem (photo: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel’s government is reported to be finalising plans to get at least half of the economy going again without allowing new coronavirus outbreaks to take hold.

The first steps are likely to take place on Sunday, but discussions involving the finance and health ministries are continuing.

Israelis are said to be restless now that Passover has finished, with many longing for an easing of the restrictions intended to enforce social distancing.

Some of the pressure upon the government would seem to be a result of the success of its own actions in combatting the virus. The number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths are at a reasonably low level. Israel ranks as one of the leading countries in terms of controlling the spread of this new coronavirus.

Thus, the high number of unemployed people and the fact that markets are still closed is producing increased pressure to consider the impact of the economic difficulties upon people’s health.

Early indications are that the government will adopt a mixed approach of relaxing restrictions in some areas whilst keeping other areas under tight control.

This approach is based upon the huge difference in the level of infections. The Haredi community in Bnei Brak has 1 infection for every 91 people, compared to neighbouring Tel Aviv where only 1 in every 932 people is infected.

One reason for this difference is that worshippers have continued to gather for prayer meetings in Bnei Brak, violating government restrictions. That has prompted police to disperse such gatherings and hand out penalties to some of those involved.

UPDATE 17th April 2020

On Thursday evening, Israel’s Defence Minister put forward a proposal for businesses to re-open and operate under a set of health and safety requirements:

  1. Temperatures will be checked at the entrance of each venue.
  2. Workers showing coronavirus symptoms will remain at home.
  3. Protective face masks must be worn.
  4. A distance of two metres must be maintained between people.
  5. Public spaces must be disinfected every two hours.
  6. A sterile area for workers aged 50-65 must be created.

That proposal will now be taken forward for further approval on Saturday.