Defense Minister Naftali Bennett warned Tuesday that Israel may see more suicides than deaths from the coronavirus if the country’s lockdown is kept in place for too long.
“We have to understand the massive distress of those who won’t have enough money to pay their rent — we may have more suicides than deaths from coronavirus,” he said.
Bennett called for the government to work to reopen businesses as quickly as possible by performing large numbers of tests in order to identify possible sources of outbreaks as well as places where life can return to normal.
The unemployment rate climbed to 23.4 percent on Tuesday with some 812,000 Israelis out of work since the beginning of March due to the pandemic.
Some 24,000 newly out of work Israelis registered for unemployment on Monday.
Among those seeking state benefits, 89.8% have been placed on unpaid leave by their workplaces, while 6.3% were fired, according to the National Employment Service.
Only a month ago, before the coronavirus outbreak, unemployment in Israel was at a record low of under 4%. There are now 969,693 Israelis seeking unemployment benefits, counting the 160,000 who were already on unemployment before the crisis.
The staggering figure amounts to nearly one quarter of Israel’s salaried workforce.
In addition to the close to a million unemployed, Israel has some 280,000 self-employed workers, many of whom have seen a sharp decline in business since the outbreak of the crisis, but are not entitled to unemployment benefits.
On Monday, the government announced a massive NIS 80 billion ($23 billion) economic aid package that will include up to NIS 14,000 ($4,000) in grants to the self-employed made in two payments.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.