Netanyahu: No National Shutdown…Yet

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on March 16, 2020. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu‏‏ said on Monday evening that currently there will be no national lockdown in the struggle to contain the coronavirus, but warned that some localities could be isolated.

“We aren’t locking people in their homes. We aren’t announcing a full lockdown — and I hope we won’t get to it,” said the prime minister, but that “we will impose local lockdowns in places where there is an outbreak.”

Earlier in the day, there were media reports that Telz-Stone, near Yerushalayim was being considered for lockdown due to the alarming spread of illness there.

In an address broadcast to the nation in prime time, the prime minister also announced another series of precautionary measures, including reductions of the workforce in both the private and public sectors.

Businesses with more than 10 workers should reduce staff by 70%. Workers can work in shifts, at home or go on unpaid leave.

Government workplaces will shift to an “emergency framework.”

“I know this is a difficult time. Many people will be home and not at work. Many are concerned, perhaps they won’t have enough money,” but, he said the government would provide an “economic safety net” for all Israelis.

Essential services such as healthcare, supermarkets, pharmacies and banks are remaining open, said Netanyahu, and he has assured the public that all vital foods and medicines will remain in good supply.

The government, he said, will vote later Monday night to implement new digital measures to track carriers of the coronavirus, a controversial measure that reportedly will have the Shin Bet deploy technology hitherto used against terrorists.

Acknowledging the potential for massive state invasion of privacy, Netanyahu said cabinet ministers debated the issue for six hours on Sunday, and stressed that it would only be in effect for a month.

“We asked for strict oversight on this so that it isn’t abused. “Israel is a democracy — we must uphold the balance between the rights of the individuals and the public needs. And we are doing this,” he added.

Public transportation will continue to operate, though with unspecified changes.

These measures will be in place until Pesach.

Speaking after Netanyahu, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said that provisions are being made to help Israelis through the economic hardships, including an easing of conditions for receiving unemployment benefits and grants to small businesses.

He said 5 billion shekels was allocated to help people through.

Kahlon said that workers laid off because of the epidemic will receive “improved” unemployment benefits, with those employed for six months now eligible for the payments (an easing of the regulation that formerly required workers to have been employed for at least a year).

Small business owners will be able to defer their property tax, water, national insurance, and electricity bills if they cannot make the payments, said Kahlon. Grants of up to NIS 6,000 would be made available to small businesses and freelancers.

Meanwhile, the number of Israelis with cornovirus has risen to 298, according to a Health Ministry update on Monday night.