Israel extends coronavirus lockdown as finance minister warns of businesses ‘collapsing’

Israel’s nationwide lockdown will be extended at least until Sunday as officials determine the next step toward reopening, despite warnings from the finance minister that the policy has pushed small firms to the brink of collapse.

The country’s coronavirus cabinet met late into Tuesday night to discuss an exit plan from the lockdown, re-imposed in September amid a wave of new infections, but decided the measures would remain in force over the weekend.

“The decision to ease restrictions and allow for a gradual exit from the lockdown will require a constant and certain decrease in morbidity rates, and reaching that will take a few days,” the Health Ministry and the prime minister’s office said in a joint statement after the meeting.

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While the lockdown will stay in place, the cabinet did loosen restrictions to allow close relatives to travel more than one kilometer in order to attend a wedding, and lifted restrictions barring professional athletes from training.

Tuesday’s cabinet meeting saw heated debate over the path to reopening, with Finance Minister Israel Katz warning that “small businesses are collapsing” under the lockdowns, adding that allowing them to reopen “does not hurt health and adds much to the economy.”

Officials will meet again on Thursday for further discussion about lifting the measures – including plans to reopen restaurants, preschools and airlines – which have stoked weeks of intense anti-government protests across the country, many explicitly aimed at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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