Economists: Damage From Coronavirus About a Billion Shekels So Far

An ambulance driver wearing protective clothing transporting a patient suspected with coronavirus to Shaarei Zedek Medical Center in Yerushalayim. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

So far, the Israeli economy has lost a billion shekels in productivity and extra expenses due to the coronavirus crisis, Economy Ministry officials said. At a press conference, Chief Economist Shira Greenberg said the ministry was preparing for losses of NIS 12 billion this year, or about 1% of Israel’s GDP.

The losses are due mostly to falloffs in business at leisure and tourism-related organizations, led by El Al, which is experiencing deep losses due to canceled flights. Also affected are hotels, restaurants, bus companies, tour guides, tourist sites and clothing stores. Those losses are in addition to about a billion shekels Israeli investors have lost in recent days, as stock markets around the world sink over fears of the spread of the disease.

The government has spent NIS 150 million directly on coronavirus-related expenses, including setting up isolation areas and testing for the 5,000-some Israelis who are now in voluntary at-home isolation, as well as training costs and expenses for testing kits for staff at Ben Gurion Airport and hospitals who are checking tourists and Israelis for signs of infection. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon on Monday ordered the establishment of a special committee that will examine the economic implications of coronavirus on the Israeli economy.

The Economy Ministry has said in recent days that although self-isolation is essentially a requirement, the government will be unable to compensate those forced to remain at home for lost wages. Yediot Acharonot said that the only group that will likely be compensated will be state workers who were stationed abroad in countries where coronavirus outbreaks are concentrated, and returned home to self-isolation.

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