Cabinet slashes public and private workforce to just 30% in bid to slow virus
Coronavirus crisis

Cabinet slashes public and private workforce to just 30% in bid to slow virus

Critical sectors like health, welfare and security to be exempt, as will food, utilities and banks; businesses can stay open as long as they abide by Health Ministry restrictions

View of Jaffa street in downtown Jerusalem on March 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
View of Jaffa street in downtown Jerusalem on March 20, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The cabinet on Friday authorized further stringent workplace restrictions, tightening the limit to just 30% of workers in both public and private sectors in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The Finance Ministry, which announced the decision, said that industries deemed vital to the economy and public well-being would be exempt and noted that all businesses can keep operating as long as they manage to abide by the rules.

Israel Radio reported that the decisions were taken after a three-hour long “stormy” discussion. Recent days have seen increasing tensions between the desire to restrict activities and stop the disease and fears over the massive financial impact this is causing.

“These steps are designed to enable as many workers as possible to stay at home to reduce the spread of infection, but at the same time ensure continued critical functions of the economy,” the ministry said.

An Israeli firefighter sprays disinfectant at the entrance of the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on March 20, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

According to the decision the public sector will reduce its workforce to just 30%, with workers divided between offices and home. Exceptions will be made for the health, welfare and security sectors and others deemed “crucial.”

The private sector will face similar limits. Businesses can keep operating so long as they do not bring in more than 30% of their work force or have more than 10 people in a building at a time, the statement said. All work from home was allowed.

“To ensure that the public won’t face shortages in food, medicine financial services, garbage collection and energy supply, several bodies have been designated as critical services that are not bound by the limits,” the statement said urging them to nevertheless try and abide by Heath Ministry regulations as much as possible.

The new workplace restrictions come hours after new emergency regulations legalizing tough personal restrictions on movement came into effect Friday, after receiving cabinet approval overnight.

Ministers unanimously approved the measures, which made the limitations on movement announced earlier in the week legally binding and enforceable.

The restrictions dictate that Israelis should stay at home at all times unless for purposes of essential work, stocking up on food, medical issues or a limited number of permitted activities.

The number of confirmed sick in Israel stood at 705 on Friday morning. Ten were in serious condition and 18 in moderate condition.

An elderly woman in Jerusalem was in critical condition, while an elderly man and woman in central Israel were in very serious condition. Several other patients were in serious condition, sedated and on respirators. The vast majority of patients were experiencing mild symptoms only.

Workers prepare a new ward at the Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, for people infected with the Coronavirus, March 19, 2020. (Flash90)

Meanwhile medical officials said the condition of a 38-year-old East Jerusalem bus driver who was Israel’s first COVID-19 patient in serious condition had improved and he was now only displaying mild symptoms.

Worldwide, the death toll surpassed 10,000 and infections topped 240,000, including 86,000 people who have recovered, according to tallies early Friday.

Israeli officials have warned recently that the country would likely see its first deaths and that cases of illness will climb into the thousands soon.

Read: Coronavirus in Israel — all you need to know

After a delay of several days, a new drive-through facility opened in Tel Aviv Friday for Israelis to receive on-the-spot testing for the coronavirus while they wait in their cars.

Magen David Adom staff wear protective clothing at a drive-through site to collect samples for coronavirus testing in Tel Aviv, March 20, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The facility, run by the Magen David Adom ambulance service, is at the Expo Tel Aviv compound, and is open only to those with specific doctors’ referrals. If the pilot testing project proves successful, additional facilities will be opened in other major cities.

In recent days, the Health Ministry has boosted testing for the virus from some 500-700 tests a day to around 2,200 per day and officials have said the number of tests would increase to 3,000 per day by Sunday and 5,000 per day by the following week.

In announcing the new legally binding restrictions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged that it was “a step unlike any since the founding of the State of Israel” but added that the nation had “never faced anything like the coronavirus.”

The steps taken so far have slowed the spread of the virus, “but the pandemic continues to spread,” the prime minister continued. “In Israel… the numbers of those who are sick is growing daily. Nobody has died, but that unfortunately is not likely to continue…there are likely to be many victims.”

A child watches as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a live press conference on the new government restrictions for the public regarding the coronavirus on March 19, 2020 (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

There was no immediate information on what the punishments would be for violators of the Health Ministry directives, which were originally announced Tuesday.

Israel has already ordered all leisure and recreation sites closed, along with schools, universities and kindergartens. Many places of work have also been instructed to have employees work from home where possible, or put them on leave. The country has also sealed its borders to all foreigners.

Public transportation was set to further reduce services in the coming days. Starting Monday, intracity bus lines across Israel will only run twice an hour, while bus companies will decide whether intercity lines will operate twice or three times an hour. Passenger train services will be reduced by 50 percent.

Currently, public transportation across Israel stops at 8 p.m. each evening, before resuming the next morning. It will also no longer operate on weekends, stopping at 8 p.m. Thursday and beginning again Sunday morning.

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