Israel plans to ease coronavirus lockdown measures

Jerusalem: Israel prepares to further ease lockdown measures almost two months after severe restrictions were imposed on the public and the economy as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Details of the plan have emerged in recent days, as it appears that the country has been successful in curbing the spread of the virus, reports Xinhua news agency.

Monday was the first day when less than 100 people were diagnosed with the virus.

Currently, the death toll in Israel from COVID-19 stands at 202 with under 15,500 diagnosed with the virus.

The marked slowdown in the infection rate has given officials the confidence to ease measures and gradually allow routine to resume.

On Wednesday, Israelis will mark Independence Day which will see a temporary intensification in lockdown measures imposed in order to avoid mass gatherings.

Following the short holiday, restrictions will begin to be lifted again.

Earlier, all businesses in streets were allowed to open. But shopping malls still remain closed.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Monday that school students until the third grade will return to school on Sunday, under varying restrictions.

In a video briefing held Monday by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, together with officials from the Health Ministry and the Finance Ministry, more details on how Israel has dealt with the virus and its various effects were given.

"From Sunday, we will be under an exit and containment strategy," said Asher Salmon, head of International Relations Department at the Health Ministry.

"We will allow more people to work, more commercial activity to open, and more exercise. We will still not allow big events or gatherings."

The Health Ministry has been conducting geographical epidemiological testing and research regarding children's susceptibility to COVID-19 and how much they spread the virus.

"We believe children suffer from a much more mild form of the disease but at the same time are potential spreaders," said Salmon.

The final decision of whether young children will resume schooling will be made at the end of this week, pending updated infection rates.

For Israel, a country which has approximately 2 million school children, the re-start of the school system is a key factor in boosting the struggling economy.

According to the Bank of Israel, the cost of one week of school closure to the market is $750 million.

According to Salmon, universities will likely continue remote studying until the next academic year.

While Israel has suffered a major blow to its economy, Finance Ministry's officials believe recovery will occur by 2021.

"About 40 per cent of the damage in 2020 is expected to recover next year," said Lev Druker, deputy chief economist at the Ministry.

"This year we expect to see a 5.4-per cent contraction or larger in our GDP."

The Israeli government has taken steps to mitigate the blow, but for now many small businesses have suffered and unemployment rate has skyrocketed to almost 28 per cent, when before the outbreak it was at a record low of less than 4 per cent.

Domestic tourism is expected to resume next week, with small hotels being allowed to open.

But according to Lior Haiat, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, there would be "weeks or months" before tourists are allowed to enter Israel.

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