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Tel Aviv Restaurants, Bars Packed On First Night Open Since Virus Shutdown

Thousands of Israelis flocked to Tel Aviv’s restaurants and bars on Wednesday evening, their first chance to do so since the coronavirus shutdown in mid-March.

Wednesday marked the first day since mid-March that restaurants and cafes were allowed to open after the lockdown, and virus fears remained present in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv earlier in the day, leaving some locations half empty.

But by nightfall, things picked up, with many taking the advice of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who urged people to celebrate, but responsibly.

“We want to make your life easier, to allow you to go out and get life back to normal, to have a cup of coffee and to drink a beer,” he said in a video Tuesday announcing the reopening.

More than 120,000 Israelis made reservations to ensure they got a spot on the first night, Channel 12 reported, noting that in Tel Aviv, many bars and restaurants said they were operating at 95% capacity and no reservations were to be had until after the weekend.

While people were eager to get out, the experience was slightly different from in the past. Some places had bottles of hand sanitizer on the tables next to the candles, others had disposable menus and most servers wore masks. Diners were seated at a distance from other parties.

Restaurants and bars had been among the last places okayed to be reopened, with owners pushing to be able to return to work. Some eateries had reopened independently in protest of the rules. Places of entertainment such as cinemas and theaters are set to open in mid-June.

Under the new guidelines, restaurants and bars with a license for up to 100 persons were allowed to open to full capacity, while those with a license for up to 200 people were allowed to serve up to 85 percent of their regular capacity.

Restaurants must take customers’ temperature before allowing them to enter, tables must be 1.5 meters apart and must be disinfected between clients. Servers must wear protective masks and self-service is not allowed.

Despite the celebratory mood, many restaurants did not not reopen amid financial hardships caused by the prolonged closure, with owners saying the strict hygiene and distancing guidelines would make it difficult to recoup losses.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein called the decision to roll back restrictions “a holiday gift,” referring to the upcoming Jewish holiday of Shavuot, which begins on Thursday night.

The country has gradually eased restriction over the past month as the number of new daily infections has dropped to around two dozen a day. However, officials have expressed fears of a second wave, and there have been reports of localized outbreaks centered around reopened schools.

At the height of the virus crisis, almost all businesses and public places were shut and most people were banned from going more than 100 meters from their homes.

By TOI Staff