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Number of jobless rises over weekend as Israel reimposes some lockdowns

Employment Service reports 1,593 newly unemployed since Thursday; data shows 847,968 people jobless, of whom 576,164 are on unpaid leave, with unemployment at 21%

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Israelis protest in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square against the government's economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic, July 11, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)
Israelis protest in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square against the government's economic policies during the coronavirus pandemic, July 11, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The National Employment Service on Sunday said the number of people who said they are either unemployed or furloughed increased over the weekend as the nation reimposed some closures and locked down some neighborhoods to stem a resurgence of the deadly coronavirus.

According to the data, from 5 p.m. Thursday to 7 a.m. Sunday, 1,250 people told the service they had got back to work, compared to 2,843 new people who said they were looking for jobs.

The numbers come as Israel has reimposed restrictions on economic activity –including closing down bars and event halls and locking down whole neighborhoods, in light of a new spike in coronavirus infection numbers. On Saturday evening, thousands of people descended on Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to protest the Israeli government’s handling of the economic crisis.

In light of the recent health developments and their effect on the economy and on employment, “in recent days we have been receiving reports of workers being furloughed for a second time, after they had already said they had got back into the labor force,” the Employment Service said in a text message, adding that it is further looking into this trend.

Protesters demand government action at a demonstrations in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square against Israeli economic policy in the wake of the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic, on July 11, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Earlier this month, the Bank of Israel said the nation’s economy this year will contract by 6%. And high unemployment may prove the biggest obstacle on Israel’s road to recovery, experts fear.

Since the government first started easing the lockdowns on the economy on April 19, 395,871 people said they have returned to work, while 146,605 new workers have registered as job-seekers, the Employment Service said on Sunday.

There were a total of 847,968 people seeking jobs as of Sunday morning, of whom 576,164 are furloughed, the data showed. The unemployment rate stands at 21%, the Employment Service said.

Lockdown measures, which began in mid-March, brought the Israeli economy to an almost-total standstill. Unemployment figures jumped from a record low of under 4 percent at the beginning of March to some 28% in late April, as many businesses were forced to close their doors, and the number of unemployed surpassed 1 million for the first time in Israel’s history.

As infection rates declined, the country removed most of its restrictions by May to reopen the economy, but this caused a renewed flare-up of the virus.

The Health Ministry on Sunday morning reported 749 new coronavirus cases overnight, with four additional fatalities from COVID-19 bringing the death toll to 358.

According to ministry figures, there are 18,940 active infections, including 1,148 new cases recorded Saturday. With the latest rise, the number of active cases again overtook the number of Israelis who have recovered from the virus, which stood at 18,915.

To contain the surge in new cases, the government has reimposed many restrictions on gatherings and economic activity, and on Friday a number of lockdowns came into effect in neighborhoods in five towns and cities hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak.

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