Netanyahu: “We Reopened Too Early”

YERUSHALAYIM -
Magen David Adom workers wearing protective clothing evacuate a patient to the coronavirus unit at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Wednesday. (Flash90)

At a press conference on the coronavirus crisis and the government’s economic response, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu admitted for the first time in public that they re-opened parts of the economy too quickly.

“Looking back, as part of the trial and error, we can say that the last step was too early,” he said, referring to relaxed rules for bars and event halls in recent days.

But, seeking to put the situation in perspective and deflect some of the heavy criticism he has come under, the prime minister noted:

“We are in the midst of a global storm, which [is] growing… The second virus wave won’t skip almost any country.”

“It requires fateful decisions every day, balancing between trial and error. You try, err and fix. That’s how all leaders are operating.”

“In the first wave we had amazing success. The death toll was and remains very low. But the lockdown exacted a heavy toll on the economy.”

Netanyahu took responsibility, but not without inviting the public to share in the decision to reopen prematurely.

“We did it because we listened to your struggles. I take responsibility for this step, and I take responsibility for fixing it,” he says.

Addressing those financial and personal struggles, Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yisrael Katz presented a plan that will include grants to 400,000 self-employed and business owners that he promised will be transferred to their bank accounts next week.

Earlier this week, Netanyahu was confronted in a teleconference by small business owners who angrily insisted that the promised help had not been forthcoming from the government and that it is needed immediately to keep them from losing everything.

Wage workers will receive unemployment benefits in their bank accounts through June 2021.

“As for the self-employed and business owners hit by the coronavirus, [the government will issue] an immediate grant that will go straight into their bank accounts next week. There won’t be any conditions [for the grants] and no bureaucracy. It will be immediate. We will transfer more money and do more,” he pledged.

In addition, he said that the government must pass a one-year budget by the end of next week in order to save the economy. The coalition agreement with Blue and White calls for a two-year budget, which offers more stability, but Likud officials argue that swiftly changing condition require a one-year budget. The issue has been a divisive one, and it was still not clear how it will be resolved. Channel 13 reported, however, that Gantz will likely give in on it.

In some of the strongest language he has used in rebuking Israelis who have flouted health regulations, Netanyahu warned that people who hold large weddings in private homes rather than event halls, where they are banned, “might find themselves subsequently holding funerals,” not weddings.