Kahlon: Israel coordinating with PA to contain coronavirus outbreak

'We are in contact with [the Palestinian Authority] because the virus has no borders, and doesn't know to distinguish between ethnic groups, religions or nations.'

Coronavirus quarantine ward at Sheba Hospital in Ramat Gan (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)
Coronavirus quarantine ward at Sheba Hospital in Ramat Gan
Israeli authorities are working closely with their counterparts in the Palestinian Authority to contain the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said on Sunday, emphasizing that the virus “does not stop at checkpoints.”
“We are in contact with [the PA] because the virus has no borders, and doesn’t know to distinguish between ethnic groups, religions or nations,” said Kahlon, chairing a ministerial committee formed to assess the economic impact of the coronavirus. “The virus does not stop at checkpoints and therefore coordination with the PA is important to us.”
Kahlon said he had spoken directly to his counterpart in the PA, Finance Minister Shukri Bishara, and coordination was being carried out through the Defense Ministry’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories.
Among the ministers attending the meeting was Labor and Welfare Minister Ofir Akunis, who emphasized the importance of coordination with the PA and continuing the important flow of 60,000 Palestinian workers into Israel on a daily basis.
“So far, the crisis has not had significant consequences on a macroeconomic level,” said Kahlon. “On a microeconomic level, we are already witnessing a blow to specific sectors, and it is feasible that this will expand. We are assessing the possible damage to industry resulting from a lengthy shortage of raw materials from China and Far East destinations. Significant damage has already been identified in the airline sector, including an impact on Israeli airlines and the entire tourism industry.”
The committee decided to establish a team in the Finance Ministry, headed by director-general Shai Babad, tasked with recommending economic measures for reducing the impact of the coronavirus outbreak to ministers,
Bearing the brunt of the outbreak, El Al is preparing to layoff up to 1,000 of the company’s 6,300 permanent and temporary staff. The airline, which said it expects revenues to drop by $50 million to $70m. between January and April as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, reportedly fired 50 trainee pilots and an additional 14 pilots waiting to join the company on Sunday.
The carrier has already canceled all flights to China, Hong Kong and Italy, and is facing falling demand across its network. The scheduled launch of a nonstop route to Tokyo on March 11 has also been postponed. Last week, the airline said it expects revenues to drop by $50m. to $70m. between January and April, as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. On Sunday, El Al announced that it would allow all passengers scheduled to fly to and from Europe this month to change or freeze their tickets free of charge until July 31.
At an emergency meeting on Sunday, El Al workers union chairman Sharon Ben-Yitzhak told employees that Israel’s response to the coronavirus outbreak had dealt “a deathblow to the aviation sector.” Last week, the Health Ministry called on Israelis to reconsider all foreign travel.
Describing the company’s workforce as “soldiers of the country,” Ben-Yitzhak called on the government – which holds a “golden share” in the airline – to support the livelihoods of thousands of Israeli households.
Stocks on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange fell again on Sunday as nervousness surrounding the coronavirus continued to affect markets, with the benchmark TA-35 index declining 1.18% during the day’s trading. The heaviest losses of the day (8.16%) were posted by Israeli energy company Delek Drilling.
After more than $5 trillion was wiped from the value of global markets last week, World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for restraint on Sunday.
“Global markets… should calm down and try to see the reality,” Ghebreyesus told CNBC at the Riyadh International Humanitarian Forum. “We need to go into the numbers, we need to go into the facts, and do the right thing instead of panicking. Panic and fear is the worst.”