The Association of Retail, Fashion and Café Chains in Israel, which represents 400 chains that employ some 300,000 workers, announced on Wednesday that its members will be opening their doors for business starting on Sunday, despite the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown.

The chains are throwing their weight behind an initiative by small, independent business owners who last week decided to resume operations in defiance of the government.

The ARFCC member businesses will open nationwide with the exception of cities and towns coded “red” by the Health Ministry as COVID-19 hotspots. These cities include, but are not limited to, Ofakim, Or Yehuda, Elad, Ashdod, Beit Shemesh, Beitar Illit, Bnei Brak, the red neighborhoods of Jerusalem, Kiryat Malachi, Rechasim and Ramla.

The planned opening will apply to member stores located on city streets, as well as in shopping malls and open-air shopping centers.

The shopping malls run by the Azrieli and Ofer corporations are not included in the list of businesses that plan to open.

The association assesses that some 35 percent of member businesses, or approximately 6,300 shops, will open their doors.

“Many city leaders have instructed their city inspectors not to fine these stores. In a number of local authorities, inspectors have been furloughed to avoid them fining stores. We are in contact with city mayors and with owners of more shopping malls and shopping centers, so we can expand the number of stores that will open on Sunday, Oct. 18. We’re drowning. We can’t breathe. It’s been proven that trade doesn’t spread [the virus]—it’s time to open!” the association said in a statement.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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