Coronavirus containment measures exact increasingly costly toll

Despite rumors of wide-ranging shutdowns of the Israeli economy, the Finance Ministry announced limits primarily affecting leisure-related businesses including restaurants, theaters and gyms.

PEOPLE WALK past a cafe in Tel Aviv (photo credit: SHARON PERRY/REUTERS)
PEOPLE WALK past a cafe in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: SHARON PERRY/REUTERS)
Major public health decisions necessarily come with a heavy economic price. Measures to contain the outbreak of the novel coronavirus are exacting an increasingly costly toll.
Despite rumors of wide-ranging shutdowns of the Israeli economy, Finance Ministry director-general Shai Babad announced limits primarily affecting leisure-related businesses including restaurants, theaters and gyms. More severe measures are expected in the coming days.
Those expected to be hit hardest by the new measures are thousands of workers on zero-hour contracts, who may not be eligible for benefits from the National Insurance Institute (Bituach Leumi), and parents of preschoolers who will now need to remain at home. For the foreseeable future, employers will be required to implement measures enabling employees to work from the comfort of their own home, despite the inevitable decrease in efficiency.
While compensating for the economic damage caused by the new measures will require large sums, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lamented constraints derived from the current political situation. Some cafes and restaurants shut their doors prior to the announcement, and many are unlikely to open after the outbreak.
As alluded by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon last week, additional funds will likely be needed by the National Insurance Institute to meet the anticipated increase in claims for compensation.
Much of the Saturday night press conference was dedicated to allaying customer fears. Babad emphasized that Israel has supplies of food and pharmaceuticals that can last for months, calling on the public to refrain from panic-buying in supermarkets.
"We are not intending to shut the private sector," said Babad. "We are requesting that all the chief executives of companies try to let employees work from home, to reduce gatherings at places of work and to implement a two-meter rule between workers."
Even prior to Netanyahu's announcement, amid fears of a possible bank run, the Bank of Israel moved to allay customer concerns.
"The banking system is ready to continue to maintain the cash machines and no shortage of cash is expected," the central bank said in a statement. "The Bank of Israel is ensuring that, under every measure, bank cash machines will work as usual."
Leaders of the Histadrut labor federation and unions representing workers across industries met following the announcement to develop practical measures to support the economy during the coming weeks.
"We need to know not just how to proceed unharmed through the current crisis but how the State of Israel will look when we finish," said Histadrut labor federation chairman Arnon Bar-David. "Every union leader must show responsibility and lead his own public. We are at war and should act like we are at war. We will continue to act and do everything for the workers, for the economy and Israeli society."
Bar-David ordered the establishment of a Histadrut emergency body, starting work on Sunday to help trade union leaders enforce the new guidelines.
The acting chairman of the Presidium of Israeli Business Organizations, Dubi Amitai, emphasized that the fate of the business sector mirrors the fate of the public.
"The business sector is the growth engine of the economy and is the reason for the strength of the Israeli economy," said Amitai. "Despite the uncertainty around decision-making regarding compensation, we expect that the state will stabilize, will put its hand in its pocket and assist us to cope with this event of an unprecedented scale."
As the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus continue to rise in Israel, restrictions on the workplace and public activities are expected to increase in tandem. For employees lacking job security and the state, the true financial impact of the outbreak is unlikely to be known for some time.


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