Israel imposes severe new restrictions, announces $23B aid package

Netanyahu tells nation “there is no choice,” putting restrictions in place that ban almost all meetings outside of immediate family.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the nation Monday evening to announce the tightening of restrictions on movement to stem the exponential growth of coronavirus contagion in Israel.

Speaking from quarantine in his own house after one of his staff members tested positive for the virus, Netanyahu said the government was imposing additional restrictions, including a ban on meetings of more than two people who are not in the same immediate family.

The restrictions also prohibit guests from outside the immediate family at weddings and limit the number of people attending funerals to 20. At all meetings and events, people must maintain the two-meter (six -oot) safety distance to reduce the chances of being infected.

“There is no choice,” Netanyahu said.

In response to media reports showing police breaking up gatherings, Netanyahu said there are still religious and secular groups who have not been complying with health regulations and were therefore “endangering the lives of others.”

“I instructed the security forces to act immediately in areas and neighborhoods that violate our clear guidelines against the corona epidemic,” the prime minister said.

Shortly after the address, veteran Israeli political reporter Barak Ravid tweeted that the prime minister’s test for coronavirus had come back negative.

“BREAKING: Netanyahu Coronavirus test comes back negative, PM office says,” Ravid posted. “PM office adds Netanyahu will remain in self isolation for now until further instructions from the ministry of health.”

During the broadcast Netanyahu mentioned that he was speaking from isolation and that the only other person in the room was the cameraman, who was six meters (18 feet) away. He added that he had done his own hair and makeup before the broadcast.

Negotiations for a unity government continued all day Sunday with potential coalition partners jockeying for powerful cabinet positions. Netanyahu repeated his call for a government of national unity.

“There is no greater mission than to join hands – virtually of course,” Netanyahu quipped, reminding viewers to maintain social distancing.

Immediately after Netanyahu spoke, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon gave a televised press conference from his office announcing a $23 billion economic package to help all sectors of Israel’s society and economy, including $2 billion to be reserved for all those not covered in the different programs he described.

Israel’s economy has taken a massive hit with unemployment exploding as more than 650,000 people registered for unemployment benefits in the past few weeks. Israel’s population is 9.2 million.

The economic package includes massive aid for both salaried and self-employed workers, loans and grants for small, medium and large businesses, and an immediate $2.8 billion for the Ministry of Health which is facing tremendous pressures as the number of Israelis infected by the epidemic doubles every three days and supplies of essential equipment dwindle.

At the end of his speech, Kahlon announced that after 17 years in public office he is retiring from politics and will step down as soon as a new government is formed. Kahlon is most well known for deregulating Israel’s mobile telephone sector when he served as communications minister.