Nicole Jansezian | March 7, 2021
With just over two weeks until elections, Cabinet votes to reopen most of the economy, airport under restrictions; Borders still closed to foreigners
And just like that, Israel is open for business.
Most of Israel. To most citizens. After a year of closures for various sectors – some on and off and others for an entire year – most of Israel’s businesses and schools reopened today. In a last-minute Cabinet decision late Saturday night, ministers voted on reopening several institutions with certain restrictions. The vote comes some 17 days before elections.
But most benefits of this massive reopening are reserved for holders of the “green passport,” a barcode authentication issued to citizens who have had two vaccine doses or to those who have recovered from the coronavirus. Indoor dining at restaurants (limited to 75% capacity and 100 people maximum) is limited to green passport holders. Those without it, which includes children since those under 16 have not been vaccinated, must eat outdoors if a restaurant is able to provide seating outside.
The reopening came too late for several businesses, however. Channel 12 reported that some 4,000 restaurants have gone out of business since pandemic restrictions began about a year ago. Only 6,000 restaurants were set to reopen today out of more than 14,000 that operated before the pandemic. Restaurants have been closed to indoor dining since early September.
Restrictions associated with travel for Israelis – including a ban on most citizens entering and leaving the country in place since the airport’s closure on Jan. 25, and the requirement to quarantine at controversial state-run facilities – have been abolished. Now returnees will be allowed to isolate at home, subject to police enforcement. The closing of the skies may have been one of the government’s most controversial decisions.
“Instead of dealing with those who violate quarantine and enforcing the law to the letter, the government has opted for an unwarranted infringement of every Israeli’s basic right to leave and enter the country,” wrote Yuval Shany, vice-president for Research at the Israel Democracy Institute, and a member of the Faculty of Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “Instead of a focused attempt to counter the spread of the variants in Israel, which would require a long-term administrative effort, it decided to swing for the fences. The arbitrary closure of the borders created a long series of absurd situations that have absolutely nothing to do with an epidemiological risk.”
Israel’s green passport is not accepted by governments overseas.
Also abolished in the vote last night was a requirement to measure the temperatures of everyone entering public buildings such as malls and supermarkets, which security guards did before allowing customers entrance. Israel in February began easing restrictions following a third lockdown, and has since gradually reopened stores and shopping malls (for everyone); as well as gyms, Gyms, swimming pools, hotels and some cultural facilities were opened two weeks ago under the green badge system.
As for traveling, as of this morning, Ben-Gurion Airport will begin running a limited number of flights in and out and will begin allowing in 1,000 Israelis a day who have been stranded abroad. Anyone with a green passport may leave freely. People who have not been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 will have to get permission from a special governmental committee. This would include children under 16.
Universities, colleges and religious seminaries reopened this morning to vaccinated or recovered students only. And finally, students in grades 7-10 who have not had in-classroom learning for an entire year, have been allowed back to school. But even that is subject to restrictions. The classes will meet only twice a week and in small groups – and only in neighborhoods where the infection rate is lower than a certain percentage. Some students were crushed to learn that they could not yet go back because their school was included in the list of closures affecting several neighborhoods, which was announced this morning, indefinitely pushing back their return to school.
These new regulations are valid until March 20 for businesses and April 3 for schools.
Here is the full communication from the Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of Transportation:
The Cabinet, this evening (Saturday, 6 March 2021, after Shabbat), approved the Health Ministry regulations for the third phase for the exit plan that will begin tomorrow (Sunday, 7 March 2021). These regulations join the existing regulations from the first and second phases.
- Gatherings: 20 people in a closed structure and 50 in an open area
- At places that operate according to the Green Pass, infants less than one year old may be brought in.
- It will be possible to receive the public in places that receive the public according to the regulations even for non-essential services provided that the service cannot be provided from a distance or online.
- The Green Pass will apply to those participating in the Israel Institute for Biological Research vaccine test.
- Restrictions on passengers in private vehicles are cancelled.
- The requirement to question or measure temperatures at the entrance to public or commercial places is cancelled.
- Pupils in grades 7-10 will return to classes in those areas in which classes are held for other grades (green, yellow and borderline orange areas, whose ranking is no more than 7 and in which at least 70% of people over 50 have been vaccinated).
- Institutions of higher learning and professional instruction, and post-secondary religious institutions may open according to the Green Pass only; this is on condition that the institutions ensure the holding of distance learning for students without green passes. The following conditions shall apply: Up to 300 people and no more than 75% occupancy, at least four meters’ distance between instructors and students and the posting of signs that the institution operates according to the Green Pass. The fine for institutions that admit students without green passes shall be NIS 5,000.
- Pre-secondary boarding schools will be able to operate on open or closed tracks similar to secondary boarding schools.
- The limit on participants in courses and vocational training for adults shall increase from 10 to 20.
- In green, yellow and borderline orange council areas, extra-curricular activities for children and youth movements may operate in permanent groups of up to 50 people in an open area.
- Daytrips shall be possible in structures and not just in open areas.
- Classes for grades 1-6 and 11-12 may be held in education institutions in which the Magen Chinuch plan was in operation last week.
Event halls and gardens
- Restriction on gatherings: Up to 50% occupancy and no more than 300 people.
- Entry to those holding green passes.
- Up to 5% of participants in events will be able to enter upon presentation of negative test results. Hall operators shall be obligated to operate a method for verifying that the 5% limit is kept.
- Indoor seating –for Green Pass holders only, up to 75% occupancy and no more than 100 people. Outdoor seating –no obligation to present green passes, no more than 100 people.
- Tables must be two meters apart. An usher must be appointed to verify that the distance is maintained.
- Bars – Two meters’ distance and at least one empty stool between patrons (except for those who live together).
- Dining rooms may be operated, up to 50% occupancy and no more than 300 people.
Cultural and sporting events, and conferences
- Up to 500 people in a closed space and 750 in open areas.
- In arenas or stadiums with over 10,000 seats, up to 1,000 people in enclosed spaces and 1,500 in open areas.
- Tickets shall be sold in advance only. Seating shall be in marked seats only. One may stand next to one’s seat. Events or appearances may not be held with only standing, without marked seats. Events will be held without dancing, without the sale and serving of food and beverages. There shall be no eating on site. Distance must be maintained.
Houses of prayer
Houses of prayer on the Green Pass – up to 50% occupancy according to the number of permanent seats, or one person per 7 square meters in houses pf prayer without permanent seats, and no more than 500 people in any case.
Without the Green Pass – up to 20 people inside and 50 people outside.
Tourist attractions may open according to the Green Pass, except for those attractions that receive the approval of the Health Ministry Director General to open without the Green Pass.
NIS 5,000 for violating the directives
Entry to, and exit from, Israel
- The prohibition on the entry of Israelis to the country is cancelled, except for entry restrictions via the land crossings. Thus, all Israeli citizens and permanent residents will be able to enter Israel. Nevertheless, no more than 3,000 Israelis may enter per day; this number will be gradually attained during the week according to the Transportation Ministry plan.
* Up to 1,000 people may enter tomorrow (Sunday, 7 March 2021) in order to allow for the gradual opening as determined by the Transportation Ministry.
* Designated flights for new immigrants whose immigration cannot be delayed, essential foreign workers and professional athletes shall not count toward the entry quota.
- Entry at land crossings: The Jordan River crossing shall operate up to twice a week.
- The Taba crossing will open once for those entering from Egypt, who were there until Wednesday, 3 February 2021.
- Those holding vaccination or recovery certificates will be able to exit Israel freely except via the Taba crossing which shall be closed.
- The requirement to quarantine in designated hotels shall be cancelled and will be replaced by increased enforcement by the Israel Police regarding those returning from abroad who are quarantining at home.
- To destinations to and from which there are regular flights (New York and Frankfurt), Paris, London, Kyiv, Toronto and Hong Kong shall be added.
- Flight operators shall be obligated to send to the Transportation Ministry passenger lists for epidemiological investigation on demand. If lists are not delivered on demand, flight operators shall be subject to fines of up to NIS 5,000.