Venue owners vow to fight renewed restrictions, warn of industry’s collapse
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Venue owners vow to fight renewed restrictions, warn of industry’s collapse

As coronavirus cases continue to rise, Netanyahu reimposes social distancing guidelines, capping event hall attendance at 50 people

Tables at an event hall set out for a wedding. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)
Tables at an event hall set out for a wedding. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

Owners of event halls and venues vowed to give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the fight of his life after his cabinet approved the reimposition of some restrictions on gatherings on Thursday evening in a bid to stem a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the new regulations, only up to 50 people will be able to gather in such establishments.

Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced the new measures at a press conference, in which the premier said “the virus is still here, in a big way.”

The Health Ministry on Thursday morning recorded 905 new coronavirus infections in 24 hours and two more deaths since Wednesday evening, bringing the national toll from the pandemic to 324.

Venue owners, however, say that the new restrictions will strangle their industry and that the government must offer them financial compensation “in order to rescue 150,000 service workers from disaster,” Channel 12 reported.

“Make no mistake: The government’s decision to reduce the number of guests at weddings to 50 means closing the industry,” the Association of Halls and Event Centers said in a statement.

According to Channel 12, association head Noam Levy demanded “compensation to give us what we deserve,” citing hall owners’ “expenses of hundreds of thousands of shekels.”

“At the moment, the prime minister has sent 200,000 people home: cooks, waiters, event managers, DJs, photographers,” he said, vowing that his colleagues would not “sit at home” and that Sunday would be the start of an “unparalleled struggle in Israel.

“[We] will start a fight that will make the whole country shudder,” he promised.

While Netanyahu said he was concerned with keeping the economy going, he added that this needed to be done with respect for the virus, comparing the necessary policy to “playing an accordion” — sometimes being opened and sometimes closed.

He promised that in the next few days he would announce a six-month financial rescue package to help businesses hurt by the virus closures and to keep them from having to worry about a safety net, and promised he’d make sure the money comes quickly and without bureaucratic hurdles.

“It will provide far more certainty for employment and income… to give a space of time in which you know there is a minimal safety net for businesses, independents, work-seekers.”

Israelis wearing facemasks shop at the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on June 16, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel’s unemployment rates remain very high, at 21.2 percent — only somewhat better than the 27.8% peak at the height of the pandemic. These include some 862,000 unemployed and 605,000 on unpaid leave. In February, unemployment had been at a record low of 3.4%.

The government on Monday announced a new aid package for business owners totaling NIS 2 billion ($580 million) to help them weather the economic hardships brought about by the coronavirus pandemic — though with stricter conditions than previous aid packages.

In a statement, Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz said businesses with a turnover of up to NIS 20 million ($5.8 million) a year, who lost at least 60% of their regular revenue in May-June, will receive up to NIS 400,000 ($116,000) in compensation, and businesses with a turnover of up to NIS 100 million will receive the same compensation if they lost at least 80% of their regular revenue.

Smaller businesses, with a turnover of up to NIS 300,000 ($87,000), will also receive a new grant, though there were no exact details on its parameters.

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