Cabinet to weigh further restrictions as coronavirus cases climb
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Cabinet to weigh further restrictions as coronavirus cases climb

Netanyahu to convene meeting Sunday, consider new directives including fewer employees allowed to physically go to work; economic aid package also under consideration

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on March 25, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on March 25, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to weigh further restrictions on movement in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus, as the number of COVID-19 infections in Israel climbed to 3,619 on Saturday.

The government will convene on Sunday to consider a number of new directives and moves, including an economic aid package of NIS 5 billion ($1.4 billion) for small- and medium-sized businesses proposed by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.

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.

One directive to be weighed on Sunday is to further reduce, from 30 percent to 20 percent, the proportion of a given company’s staff allowed to continue to go to work. Another would be to restrict people to within 2-3 kilometers from home when buying groceries and supplies, and a third measure would see supermarkets allocate two hours a day for elderly shoppers who are considered high-risk for contracting the virus.

A man wearing a face mask for fear of the coronavirus, walks past a homeless person near a closed shopping mall in Jerusalem on March 23, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The government discussion is set to center on Kahlon’s proposal, with Finance Ministry officials pushing for aid to businesses that would include delaying certain payments and facilitating loans rather than giving them grants as the Finance Minister is advocating.

These officials have reportedly warned that should the crisis escalate with Israel seeing more infections and deaths, the budget may not allow for further aid, Channel 12 reported.

Twelve people have died of the coronavirus in Israel so far and one Israeli has died in Italy. Of the 3,619 confirmed cases in Israel, 54 are in serious condition including 43 requiring mechanical ventilation, according to a Health Ministry announcement Saturday evening.

Channel 12 reported earlier that officials were closely watching the infection rate figures, which are continuing to rise but are not soaring, as they weigh further restrictions.

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 are set to begin aggressively enforcing the current measures starting on Sunday. On Saturday, Channel 12 reported that officers have handed out some 1,000 fines to people found violating the directives.

The Israeli military has announced that some 500 soldiers will be deployed across the country to assist police in enforcing the restrictions on movement.

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