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Israel: COVID-19 Social Distancing Requirements Tightened

(Apr. 1, 2020) A new amendment toughening existing social distancing requirements in Israel in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak went into effect on March 31, 2020. (Emergency Regulations (Novel Coronavirus – Limitations on Activity (Amendment No. 2), 5780-2020 (all citations to the regulations are to the amended regulations).) The amended regulations will be in force for a period of seven days, before the start of the upcoming Jewish holiday of Passover on April 8, 2020. (Regs. 10.)

The regulations were adopted by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s transitional government in accordance with section 39 of Basic Law: the Government, which authorizes the government, during a state of emergency, to adopt emergency regulations “for the defense of the State, public security and the maintenance of supplies and essential services.” (Basic Law: the Government § 39(a).)

Restrictions on Religious and Family Events

The amended regulations ban two or more people from praying together in public places, and conducting and attending weddings in public places. (Regs. 2(B)(a).) They allow holding funerals in open spaces with a maximum of 20 people in attendance, and celebrating a bris (brit milah, the Jewish ritual of circumcising an eight-day-old male infant) with up to 10 persons in attendance. (Regs. 3.)

The limitations on praying in open spaces are subject to two exceptions. First, the rabbi of the Western Wall (sacred to Jewish people as a remnant of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE) is authorized to approve, to the extent possible, the prayer of a fixed group of the same 10 people at the wall on specific dates and under specific conditions determined by the rabbi, with the consent of the minister of health. The names of those approved, along with the prayer times and conditions of the gatherings, are to be delivered to the Israel Police ahead of time.

Additionally, the minister of religious affairs is authorized to approve prayers with a fixed quorum of 10 persons (minyan) for the purpose of photographing the prayers and broadcasting them to the general public, provided that the approval covers no more than five quorums and has been issued with the consent of the minister of health regarding the places, dates, and conditions for the group prayers. The Israel Police must be provided beforehand with the names of the persons, conditions, and prayer times that have been approved. (Regs. 2(B)(b).)

Employers’ Obligations

The amended regulations require employees at workplaces that are still permitted to operate to take their temperature and complete a declaration of absence of symptoms (body temperature above 38 C (100.4 F), cough, and difficulty breathing) before arriving at work. Employees must arrive at the workplace with the completed form for that day, and the employer must collect and save the forms.

The employer is further responsible for ensuring that workers maintain a distance of 2 meters (6.56 feet) from each other while working. When this is not possible, the employer must ensure that other means are used for preventing infection. To the extent possible, all employees must be assigned equipment (keyboard, mouse, wired phone, etc.) for their exclusive use. Equipment used by more than one person must undergo rigorous disinfection before being transferred from one person to another.

Employers must also provide instructions to their employees regarding strict rules of hygiene, including hand washing, as well as instruct workers that the occupancy of elevators at the workplace is limited to two persons. (Regs. 3A.)

Limitations on Trade and Business Operations

Stores may conduct business provided that orders are taken by phone or internet and services are provided by means of delivery—no in-person orders or pick-ups are allowed. Exceptions apply to “[a] place for the sale of groceries, a pharmacy, an optical store, a store whose main focus is the sale of hygiene products, as well as a laboratory for repairing communications products or computers.” The conditions for the on-premises operation of these types of businesses include ensuring to the extent possible that persons who do not reside together maintain a minimum distance of 2 meters from each other, including in lines. For this purpose the operator or manager of the store must mark places for standing in areas where customers line up, including the cashiers’ area, and ensure that at any given time there are not more than four customers for every operating cash register. (Regs. 5(b)(2).)