Israel eases lockdown rules as infection rate falls to lowest level in three months

James Rothwell
 Ultra-Orthodox Jews wearing protective masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, walk on an empty street in Jerusalem's Old City - AFP
Ultra-Orthodox Jews wearing protective masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, walk on an empty street in Jerusalem's Old City - AFP

Israel has announced it will ease lockdown measures after a significant decline in the rate of coronavirus infections.

As of Sunday, restaurants will be allowed to offer takeaway food and Israelis will no longer be banned from traveling beyond a 1,000 yard radius of their home for non-essential reasons.

Beaches and nature reserves will reopen to the public and nurseries will be allowed to operate, though most schools and public-facing businesses will remain closed.

There are also plans to reopen the Western Wall and the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem's Holy City.

"As of now, the lockdown has been a major success. We are seeing a decline in all data, a clear and consistent decline," Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told ministers as the new, relaxed rules were agreed.

Israel's second lockdown was imposed in mid-September as the rate of infection soared to some 9,000 cases per day. Mr Netanyahu admitted at the time that he had reopened the country's economy too quickly.

The decision to reopen schools shortly after the first lockdown is believed to have driven up the infection rate, as well as large weddings held over the summer.

As of Thursday, coronavirus infections had fallen to their lowest rates in three months with only 1,600 cases reported over 24 hours.

The proportion of people testing positive for coronavirus, which is also a key factor in deciding whether to ease lockdown, has fallen from 15 per cent to just four per cent.

However, Yuli Edelstein, the Israeli health minister, has warned the country still has a lot of work to do if it hopes to bring the virus under control.

"There is still a long road ahead and we will do it together,” he said, adding that the education system needed to be vigilant as "we are very worried about a possible rise of infections" in prep-schools and nurseries. 

The Health Ministry has said that young schoolchildren will be allowed to return when the infection rate falls below 1,000 cases per day. It must fall even further, to 250 cases per day, before older pupils are allowed back.