Israel begins to relax coronavirus restrictions


JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Israeli government started to ease its strict coronavirus quarantine restrictions on Sunday, permitting some regulated outdoor prayer and allowing some retail stores to reopen.

Stores that sell electronics, home appliances and office equipment are back in business, but they must follow specific rules: take the temperature of employees and customers; limit the number of customers in a store at one time; implement spacing and a physical barrier between customers and cashiers at the cash register; and frequently disinfect their spaces.

People may now also participate in outdoor prayer groups of up to 19, standing six feet apart. That can take place no more than 550 yards from people’s places of residence or work, and only in open areas.

In addition to prayers, circumcisions and weddings can be held in open areas, with no more than ten people, distanced six feet apart.

Everyone in Israel is still required to wear a face mask outside, and not wearing one carries a fine.

Some technology and other kinds of businesses will be permitted to operate with up to 30 percent of its staff present at a time. Special education programs will also reopen, for up to three children per group.

In a nationally televised address on Saturday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the new regulations will remain in place for two weeks and more restriction could then be relaxed if the coronavirus situation continues to improve.

Netanyahu called on Israel’s Muslim citizens to avoid family gatherings during Ramadan, which starts on Thursday, just as Jewish Israelis did during Passover.

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