April 26, 2020 / 8:09 AM / a month ago

Israel reopens some businesses, eyes schools as coronavirus curbs ease

JERUSALEM, April 26 (Reuters) - Israel permitted some businesses to reopen on Sunday and said it would consider allowing children back to school as part of trial efforts to ease coronavirus restrictions and help the struggling economy.

After weeks of closures, shops with street access resumed operations, though malls and markets stayed off-limits as a precaution against public congregation. Restaurants were allowed to offer take-away food, in addition to delivery services.

Israel, with a population of 8.8 million, has had 15,398 coronavirus cases and 199 deaths. With around 100 COVID-19 sufferers on ventilators and 2,000 more hospital beds on standby, officials see an opportunity to review pandemic policy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will convene cabinet members by Monday for a decision on reopening schools, Defence Minister Naftali Bennett told Israel’s Channel 13 TV.

The Education Ministry has proposed that if the school year resumes it should run into the summer holiday to make up for lost time.

With unemployment hitting 27% last week, the government also approved small-business stipends and other emergency grants.

Officials described the easing of restrictions as reversable, should new contagions follow. Signalling a shift away from nationwide curbs, Israel imposed lockdowns on Sunday in neighbourhoods of two towns with local virus outbreaks.

“If we are diligent about three rules - masks, social distancing and hygiene - I believe that we will succeed in combining routine life with preventing the spread of the disease. Do not be nonchalant,” Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov said on Twitter.

Palestinian officials have reported 342 coronavirus cases and two deaths in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. (Writing by Dan Williams Editing by Gareth Jones)

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