Israel Deliberating Economic Shutdown to Contain Spread of Coronavirus

Netanyahu is concerned by the severe economic damages implicated by public health recommendations to close business and limit movement

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, March 8, 2020.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, March 8, 2020.Credit: Oded Balilty,AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to decide Saturday on a series of measures to contain the spread of coronavirus in Israel, including a possible economic shutdown.

As of Saturday, 164 Israelis have tested positive for coronavirus, in addition to 38 Palestinians in the West Bank. In addition to border restrictions, Israel has closed schools and universities and banned indoor gatherings of over 100. In the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority has shuttered all schools, universities, government offices and public places since March 10.

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Government leaders at the Finance Ministry are discussing three potential scenarios, although no decision has yet been taken.The first option is to freeze the economy, save for vital workplaces. The second is a partial shutdown in which companies and organizations will limit the scope of their work. The third option is to declare a state of emergency in which only certain economic sectors will continue their work.

The new set of measures to be announced in the next few hours are likely to be limited in scope, according to sources familiar with the deliberations.

They will likely focus on crowded places, such as entertainment venues.

Public health officials have supported drastic measures to contain the spread of the virus, including closing businesses and limiting public transport and movement between cities. Sources close to Netanyahu said his biggest concern is that such severe restrictions will result in heavy losses to the economy.

There is also discussion to include pre-schools in the current school closures, although no final decision has been made, the sources said. There were threats of industrial action from pre-school teachers on Friday, after the establishments were not included on a wider decision to close educational institutions.

One of the factors being examined is population density inside businesses, offices and public transportation, and whether individuals will be able to keep a two-meter distance from one another, according to sources.

Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi instructed all Israeli soldiers serving in "closed" bases to return to their units Friday for an extended stay of up to one month.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett announced Friday a plan for three regional inpatient centers with beds for some 3,000 patients with minor coronavirus symptoms.

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