Unemployment in resort city Eilat soars to nearly 70% as virus ravages tourism

At the beginning of March, rate was just 3.3%; ultra-Orthodox, Arab workforce across the country hit hard by restrictions to curb coronavirus, data shows

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

The resort city of Eilat, southern Israel. November 11, 2019. (Moshe Shai/ FLASH90)
The resort city of Eilat, southern Israel. November 11, 2019. (Moshe Shai/ FLASH90)

The resort city of Eilat has taken the biggest blow in the country to its workforce due to the coronavirus crisis, with nearly 70 percent out of work by the end of March, according to figures released Sunday by the Israel National Employment Service.

At the beginning of the month, unemployment in the southern port city was at just 3.3%, the service said in a statement. By the beginning of April, 68% of Eilat’s workforce had been laid off and had filed for unemployment benefits.

Since the beginning of March, the government has taken increasingly severe measures in an effort to contain a spread of the deadly novel coronavirus. Israelis have been ordered to stay at home, only venturing out for essential needs. Those who can work from home are able to continue to do so, but those who cannot and are not employed in essential jobs have been placed on leave

In Eilat, where most employees work in tourism, food, or recreation services, all of which have collapsed, the results of the restrictions have been particularly significant.

Among other cities most impacted by the economic slowdown, many are predominantly ultra-Orthodox or have high Arab populations, the figures showed.

The city with the second highest unemployment rate is ultra-Orthodox Beitar Illit which jumped from 3.3% to 52.1% during March. Nazareth, the largest Arab city in Israel, came next, with unemployment numbers rising from 6.3% to 46.6%.

They were followed by the Modiin Illit (35%) and Bnei Brak (34%), both ultra-Orthodox cities, then the predominantly Bedouin town of Rahat (33%), the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm (33%) and then Beit Shemesh, which also has a large ultra-Orthodox community, with 29% unemployed. The central city of Lod was next with 28%, then Bat Yam and Jerusalem with 26.4% each.

Betar Illit may have suffered due to its many teachers in private schools, which are prevalent in ultra-Orthodox communities, losing their jobs as schools across the country were shuttered due to the virus, the Calcalist website assessed. Both Beit Illit and Bnei Brak have also been hit with major outbreaks of the virus, which causes the COVID-19 disease. The spread has been so high in Bnei Brak that it has been cordoned off to restrict movement in and out of the city, which lies just east of Tel Aviv.

An ultra-Orthodox man crosses a main deserted street in Bnei Brak on April 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

In Tel Aviv and Haifa, unemployment was at 21.5%, compared to the national average of 23.4% at the end of March. At the beginning of April, national unemployment rose to over 1,000,000 people, for the first time ever.

“Whether there is a slow and measured return to routine or it is faster, comprehensive policy tools must be adopted to return as many Israelis as possible to work who were put on unpaid leave or were made redundant,” said Rami Garor, director-general of the Employment Service, in the statement.

“It is also clear that there are branches that will need special attention because of the dramatic impact on them such as tourism,” Garor said.

Despite the economic difficulties, 33,000 people were hired during March, the Service said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week announced that families would receive a one-time payment of NIS 500 per child (approximately $140), up to the fourth child, ahead of the Passover holiday which starts on Wednesday night. He also said that there would be stipends for the elderly, and that the payments would be approved via emergency legislation and deposited directly into bank accounts, with no bureaucratic red tape.

However, on Sunday the director-general of Israel’s National Insurance Institute said that due to an overload by the massive surge in claims, it will be unable to transfer unemployment benefits and emergency stipends before Passover starts.

The Health Ministry said Sunday that 8,018 people have been confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus in Israel. So far, 49 people have died.

There were 127 people in serious condition and 106 on ventilators. A total of 477 people have recovered from the virus.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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