Israel set to ease coronavirus lockdown from Sunday
AFP, , Saturday 17 Oct 2020
'We will exit (lockdown) carefully this time, in line with the plan set out by the experts at the health ministry,' Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters on Saturday evening


Israel is preparing to ease some lockdown restrictions from Sunday in the first phase of scaling back measures imposed last month to stem soaring novel coronavirus infection rates.

"We will exit (lockdown) carefully this time, in line with the plan set out by the experts at the health ministry," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters on Saturday evening.

The easing of some of the rules, in force since September 18 as part of a second lockdown in six months against the pandemic, had been approved on Thursday by Netanyahu's government, contingent on new cases being no higher than 2,000 per day.

On Friday, there were 1,695 new cases, according to official figures, down from around 8,000-9,000 per day at the end of September.

"If everyone follows the rules, I am sure that it will work," the prime minister added.

The lifting of restrictions is scheduled to take place in several phases, through to February 2021.

Israel, a country of about nine million people, has recorded 301,896 coronavirus cases, including 2,141 deaths, as of data released on Friday.

The government faced widespread criticism when cases surged after the country exited an initial weeks-long lockdown earlier this year.

One key measure set to be lifted on Sunday is a restriction on people moving more than one kilometre (less than a mile) from their home.

That rule sparked anger from some Israelis who claimed it was designed to stem protests against Netanyahu.

Children's nurseries, as well as beaches and national parks, are set to reopen.

So too is the Western Wall, the holiest site where Jews are allowed to pray in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

People will also be able to visit friends or relatives, as long as gatherings remain no more than 10 if inside, and 20 outside.

But the lockdown will remain in place until at least midnight Wednesday in some areas designated "red", mainly those with high ultra-Orthodox populations, where infections remain high, according to authorities.

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