Economy Minister: Coronavirus Will Cost Israel NIS 10B This Month

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Eli Cohen, Minister of Economy and Industry. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90, File)

That the coronavirus crisis is going to be tough on the economy is clear, Economy Minister Eli Cohen said in an interview – but Israel is in a position to weather the crisis and come out relatively unscathed. With that, he said, the near-term damage was going to be significant, he told the Israeli publication Business Weekend. “We are expecting damage of NIS 5 to 10 billion in the coming month, but it’s likely to be even more than that,” Cohen said.

The damage is due to a major slowdown in economic activity, with places of entertainment, restaurants, malls and many businesses either shut down altogether or operating at a bare-bones scale. The closures have already led to layoffs, and the government is losing twice – once from the taxes it is unable to collect because of a drastic fall in economic activity, and again due to the aid the government must provide to unemployed workers, as well as businesses that were forced to close.

For that latter, Cohen said, “we established a fund of NIS 8 billion for loans to victim businesses, with eased repayment options, as well as options for business owners to postpone payment of Value Added sales Taxes (VAT). We are also working to provide unemployment insurance to workers who run out of sick days. Our immediate plan is to provide the resources for Israelis to survive the current harsh reality.”

Cohen is hopeful the crisis will pass in the coming months, after which he expects the economy to come roaring back. “We are clearly being overcautious, but seeing the situation in other countries, such as Italy, convinces us that we are doing the right thing,” he said. “Our economic situation was stable coming into this, and we are working to minimize the impact on the economy. If the crisis passes quickly, the overall impact will be minimal.”

Injecting some humor into the conversation, Cohen said that he had consulted with Interior Minister Rabbi Aryeh Deri about a theoretical question, to ask Rabbanim whether it would be possible to stop saying “mashiv haruach u’morid hageshem,” the prayer for bountiful rains in Eretz Yisrael.

On the theory that warmer weather will help bring infections to an end, Cohen said, “We only have a few more weeks of winter in which we say that prayer. Maybe this is not the time for that. We are very hopeful that warmer weather will reduce the spread of coronavirus.” Cohen said that the discussion proved the need for a rightwing government. “Only in a government headed by Binyamin Netanyahu would you have a discussion on the connection between weather, tefillah and coronavirus. You won’t find Benny Gantz and Ahmed Tibi discussing that.”