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Health minister urges full compensation for businesses, workers hit by lockdown

Edelstein says he’ll fight to make sure those who lost out will get more than just ‘pocket money’; Knesset committee meets to approve extension of closure

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein speaks during a press conference about the coronavirus, in Airport City on September 17, 2020. (Flash90)
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein speaks during a press conference about the coronavirus, in Airport City on September 17, 2020. (Flash90)

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein called on the Finance Ministry on Sunday to fund full compensation for businesses and workers who have lost income due to the ongoing national lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

Edelstein, who was touring a new military wing for treating virus patients set up in Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center, warned against giving in to pressure to open up the economy just as the lockdown is showing signs of success in reducing infections.

“As a government we need to make sure that that those business owners and people who lost a lot will get not just pocket money, but full compensation, in real time, and I intend to fight for that,” Edelstein said.

“There can’t be a situation where we demand restrictions and then the self-employed and businesses have not received the required compensation. I will not let this continue,” he said.

Edelstein, who visited the military medical center along with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, said that at a Tuesday cabinet meeting he will present a plan for the “start of a gradual release” of the lockdown.

“We all see the data of a certain drop in the infection rate,” Edelstein said. “But anyone who calls for an immediate opening of everything is destroying the economy and people’s lives.

“We can’t open up and then in a few week declare another lockdown,” he said.

Health Ministry figures released Sunday showed that the number of daily coronavirus tests plummeted a day earlier — in keeping with normal weekend trends. At the same time, the positivity rate dropped to its lowest level in a month, which is not generally seen with a low number of tests.

Yesh Atid MK Karine Elharar on February 3 2013. (Flash90)

Media reports have said Edelstein’s proposal will be to stretch the easing of restrictions over several months.

His remarks came as an alliance of chains in apparel, commerce, and catering called upon retailers to disobey government coronavirus restrictions and urged businesses in cities with low infection rates to reopen on October 18.

The alliance, which represents 400 retail chains and over 18,000 stores mostly in malls and shopping centers nationwide, said in a Sunday statement that its call for civil disobedience was in response to “the drastic exit plan of the Health Ministry,” according to Hebrew language media.

That announcement came after a coalition of small business owners similarly warned Sunday that they will defy the lockdown and open their doors, saying they can no longer bear the financial cost of government limitations.

In Jerusalem, the Knesset Law, Constitution and Justice Committee convened to approve the government’s extension of emergency powers placing strict restrictions on gatherings during the lockdown, including limiting weekly protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption and has drawn criticism for his handling of the virus outbreak.

MKs discussed whether to approve the extension of the emergency measures, approved by the cabinet last week, which under legislation passed earlier came into force without initial Knesset approval last week, and keep the lockdown restrictions in place until Tuesday.

Opposition lawmakers slammed the closure of small businesses as part of the lockdown measures.

“There was no reason to close them,” said Yesh Atid MK Karine Elharar.

MK Yaakov Asher (UTJ) at his swearing-in in the Knesset plenum, May 25, 2016. (Knesset Spokesperson’s Office)

Small business owners and self-employed people in Israel were among the worst affected by the first lockdown Israel imposed earlier this year to fend off the coronavirus pandemic, and they took to the streets to fight for compensation.

Meanwhile, the committee’s chairman, United Torah Judaism MK Yaakov Asher, though lauding the effectiveness of the lockdown, criticized coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu’s “traffic light” plan.

The plan, which was approved by the government but never implemented, calls for imposing local lockdowns in areas with high infection rates. Ultra-Orthodox politicians have been highly critical of the plan, claiming it discriminates against their communities, many of which have seen some of the highest infection rates in the country.

It is supposed to be used for managing the pandemic when the lockdown measures are lifted.

“We need to bring a practical plan of action with an economic response for the citizens of the cities in which restrictions will be imposed, and if there isn’t a plan [for the economy] but only slogans, [the traffic light plan] won’t exist anymore,” Asher was quoted as saying by Channel 12 news.

Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar speaks at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem, February 19, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

On Saturday Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar announced that he was resigning as chair of the Constitution committee, saying coronavirus legislation had stripped the Knesset of its power to oversee the government and made the legislature into a rubber stamp for the cabinet’s wishes.

He noted that the emergency laws allow the Knesset to either fully approve or fully strike down government decisions, but not to debate elements of them, preventing MKs from objecting to various clauses.

As an example, he cited the decision to shutter small businesses during the lockdown, while allowing gatherings of 10 people in indoor spaces under non-work conditions.

“I no longer see a point to my membership in the committee,” Sa’ar said.

Protests Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and coronavirus lockdown measures in Tel Aviv on October 10, 2020. (Gili Yaari /Flash90)

The Health Ministry’s plan to gradually ease the national coronavirus lockdown will last at least four months and depend on ever-decreasing daily case numbers, according to a report Saturday.

Finance Minister Israel Katz also harshly criticized the lockdown policy last week, saying the indiscriminate closure would unnecessarily drive millions of Israelis to hunger and despair.

Israel has been under a national lockdown for the past three weeks to contain a raging second wave of the pandemic, which at one point reached some 9,000 daily cases. However, recent days have seen both the number of daily cases and the percentage of positive tests go down amid the sweeping restrictions on the public.

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