Cabinet discussion on tightening virus restrictions delayed

Netanyahu reportedly looking to insert new language that would essentially keep all non-essential workers at home; financial rescue package to be unveiled Monday afternoon

View of the empty Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on March 29, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
View of the empty Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on March 29, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

A cabinet meeting slated to decide on possible new restrictions aimed at keeping people at home during to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus was pushed off at the last minute, according to Hebrew media reports.

Ministers had been set to meet Sunday to weigh a package of restrictions that would have reportedly included keeping all non-essential workers at home, as well as a rescue package reportedly worth NIS 80 billion ($22.5 billion) aimed at helping businesses weather the crisis.

According to the reports, which did not cite a source, the meeting was delayed after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked for more time to insert changes into a draft of the proposed restrictions.

The meeting will instead take place Monday morning, and the economic plan will be presented later in the day, the reports said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon in Jerusalem on March 11, 2019 (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

Netanyahu is seeking a rule which would forbid all but essential workers from leaving the home, according to Channel 13 news. Previous reports had suggested that the cabinet was set to agree on limits regarding who could travel to work, though 15-20 percent of a given company’s workforce would still be allowed to travel to the office.

The delay came as the number of confirmed cases in Israel surged to 4,247, up over 600 from the day earlier, and the number of deaths related to the virus climbed to 15.

Netanyahu warned Friday that if there is not an improvement in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases by Sunday, he would have no choice but to order the country into a complete shutdown.

Magen David Adom paramedics in protective clothing are seen in Jerusalem on March 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Finance Ministry officials have resisted a full lockdown on movement, warning Netanyahu of dire consequences for the economy. The ministry has clashed with officials from the Health Ministry who have for weeks advocated the strictest of measures.

Other possible directives reportedly set to be discussed include restricting people to within 2-3 kilometers from home when buying groceries and supplies, and telling supermarkets to allocate special hours for elderly shoppers who are considered high-risk for contracting the virus.

Israelis were ordered starting on Wednesday to remain in their homes unless they are taking part in a small number of specially designated approved activities, including purchasing food and medicine or a short walk of no more than 100 meters (328 feet) from one’s home. Those found violating those regulations are subject to large fines of upwards of NIS 500 ($140) and even imprisonment.

Israeli police patrol the promenade in Tel Aviv on March 28, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Police have begun enforcing the current measures, handing out fines to people found violating the directives.

A series of increasingly strict restrictions have left the economy struggling, with over 700,000 Israelis filing for unemployment in March alone.

The budget plan would see some NIS 5 billion for small business, NIS 6 billion for large businesses and more money for a leveraged loan fund, according to the Calcalist daily.

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