De-escalation begins in Israel after month of lockdown

By Pablo Duer

Jerusalem, Oct 18 (efe-epa).- Israel started a slow de-escalation on Sunday after a month of lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A ban on residents moving more than a kilometer from their homes was lifted and daycare centers and some shops were able to reopen their doors.

Israelis were also able to go to the beach, national parks and nature reserves as well as visit family and friends in their homes.

A limit of 10 people gathering indoors and 20 outside remained in place.

Restaurants can open for home deliveries and take-away service but are not allowed to allow customers to eat inside their premises.

Areas with high rates of infection, which are mostly neighborhoods with an ultra-Orthodox Jewish population, will stay in lockdown although nursery schools can reopen.

Almost one million children aged six and under returned to schools on Sunday.

The lifting of restrictions was the first in a series of measures that are expected to slowly and progressively ease the lockdown over the coming months.

The next step, which will begin next month if infections drop, will include children between the age of six and 10 returning to school and synagogues allowed to reopen.

Gyms, shopping centers, markets and most stores will be able to reopen in the phase after that.

This staggered, gradual de-escalation plan contrasts with Israel’s rapid reopening after its first lockdown in April which experts have said was one of the main reasons for a strong second wave that hit the country in recent months and forced a second total closure.

“If we follow the instructions, I am sure this will work, but if we notice that it is not working, that we are going backward, then we will have no alternative but to tighten the restrictions again,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday as the de-escalation began.

Infection rates have improved in the country over the last two weeks after a sharp spike in cases and deaths in September and the start of October.

A positive test rate of 15 percent at the end of last month has decreased to 2.6 percent.

The number of daily cases reached almost 9,000 during the lockdown and has dropped to less than 2,000 in the last four days.

Israel’s government has faced criticism over its handling of the pandemic crisis with thousands of demonstrators gathering on Saturday to express their frustration.

Hundreds of businesses have demanded more government aid, the lifting of restrictions, with some giving away or burning their merchandise in the streets in protest.

Israel, home to around nine million people, has recorded 300,000 cases and 2,190 deaths since the start of the pandemic, half of them in the last month.

There are more than 30,000 active cases, including 670 in serious condition. EFE-EPA

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