Coronavirus: Netanyahu approves preliminary plan to open the economy

A final vote on the exit strategy will take place on Saturday night. Certain industry, high-tech and other businesses to open if they meet hygienic criteria.

Lockdown on some Jerusalem neighborhoods begins in effort to stop coronavirus spread, April 12, 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Lockdown on some Jerusalem neighborhoods begins in effort to stop coronavirus spread, April 12, 2020
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israeli leaders have agreed on a plan to begin opening the economy as early as Sunday, the Prime Minister's Office announced late Thursday night.
After hours of heated debate, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accepted the principals for an exit strategy that was presented to him by the National Security Council on Thursday. The plan was drafted with the help of a team of scientists, doctors and economists and balanced between the opposing viewpoints of the Finance, Health, Economy and Defense ministries. 

The government will gradually open a limited number of businesses, which will be subject to the rules and restrictions that the Health and Finance ministries will determine by Saturday night.
In addition, the plan calls for permitting exercise and sports up to 500 meters from home and re-opening special education programs. 
The final plan will be drafted over the next 48 hours and brought to a vote by the cabinet on Saturday night.

If participants at the meeting could have been closer than two meters from another, punches might have been thrown, as the country’s leaders engaged in the exit strategy debate.
“We’re not really talking about an exit strategy here,” Finance Ministry director-general Shai Babad said during the meeting. “Let’s disperse the discussion, and we’ll reconvene when we reach 10 or 20 patients a day as the Health Ministry wants.”
“Not everything can be about the shekel,” Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov responded.
Netanyahu had requested that the National Security Council review and organize plans from across the spectrum to be presented at Thursday’s meeting in hopes of reaching a clear plan how the country will reopen its economy and education system. As of Friday morning, 12,855 people had contracted the novel coronavirus in Israel.
Some 182 people are in serious condition, among them 129 who are intubated. Some 148 people have died.
Sources said that it appeared that any exit strategy would be run in three phases, each of around two weeks. In phase one, office workers would return to their places of employment. In phase two, stand-alone stores would open. In phase three, sometime in mid-May, schools would resume.
The Health Ministry would test and monitor the public during each phase for spikes in the number of sick people.
Media reports indicated that all parties agreed that the number of workers could minimally increase from 15% to 30%. The major point of contention seemed to be over opening small businesses, stand-alone retail establishments and salons. The Finance Ministry wants to open them, but the Health Ministry says it is too early.
The Health Ministry came to the table with an ultra-conservative plan that did not involve opening stories for another month and that did not include a timeline for the opening of schools.
There are plans for a gradual return of the economy, Bar Siman Tov told Channel 13 on Wednesday.
“A situation has been created that allows more economic activity to be returned to the economy,” he said. “We are prepared to take more risk, and this is probably what will happen in the coming days. If the Israeli public continues its excellent behavior, we can take steps forward.”
Bar Siman Tov said he does “not like the phrase ‘exit strategy, but ‘routine in the shade of the corona.’”
In contrast, the Finance Ministry said  if the country waits another month, it will mean another 120,000 Israelis out of work and the end of small businesses.
At the meeting, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan proposed defining criteria for workout centers to open. The country should allow people to participate in individual and family sports, as well as to pray in open spaces, he said. But “the most urgent” is to resume preschools and elementary schools, he added.
“The Education Ministry needs to do everything it can to help parents as early as Sunday,” Erdan said. “Recruit even National Service volunteers and students and pay them.”
One decision that was established at the meeting was reducing restrictions on the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) city of Bnei Brak through April 20, according to the Prime Minister’s Office and the Health Ministry.
The lighter restrictions, which were put into effect on Thursday at 6 p.m., allow more freedom of movement throughout the city and allow for free entry and exit from it. However, no public transportation will be available, and residents who wish to leave will have to use private cars or taxis.
The Bnei Brak Municipality has committed to moving some 700 of the city’s residents who tested positive for COVID-19 to state-run coronavirus hotels.
The choice to place extra restrictions on haredi neighborhoods has been a subject of conflict amid the coronavirus crisis, as some believe the issue to be a political one.
During the meeting Thursday, senior officials told N12 that Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman pushed to ease the closure of Bnei Brak, without data backing the decision, because of pressure he was receiving from his constituency.
Litzman is the head of the haredi United Torah Judaism Party.
The government extended restrictions on Jerusalem through April 19. Four areas that had been marked restricted before Passover will continue to be monitored until further notice, it said.
Although the likelihood of a Passover-like lockdown being implemented for Memorial Day through the end of Independence Day, April 27-29, had already been discussed, it caused another escalation during Thursday’s meeting.
Israelis did not keep the Passover restrictions, Bar Siman Tov reportedly said, adding: “They did not go out of their homes, but inside their homes, families got together.” As a result, he said he expects to see a rise in the number of intubated coronavirus patients.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon responded: “You want to keep people at home for the next two weeks because you are afraid of Independence Day? That is illogical. If it is a problem, decide to implement a closure on Independence Day.”
Bar Siman Tov responded: “You need to consider that if we open up now, it will be hard in two weeks on Independence Day to again put the country on lockdown. When you let a person outside, it is hard two weeks later to tell him to stay home.”
The IDF said it is considering a strategy to handle the coronavirus now and in the coming months.
“We understand that it’s going to be a long-term event, but at the same time people want to return to their lives,” IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman told reporters.
While the army is planning for the long term, “I can’t tell you right now how long this new reality will last,” he said.
A total of 173 soldiers have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, and another 1,600 are in quarantine. Forty-two have recovered and returned to their units or have been discharged from the military.
The military along with the Mossad continues to work with the Health Ministry, Magen David Adom and government bodies to help with decision making regarding the crisis. Thousands of soldiers continue to help deliver food and other essential products to the elderly and at-risk citizens, handing out more than two million food packages across the country, including in the Arab sector.