Israel prepares corona exit strategy: Process to start on Sunday

The government is hammering out details to restore at least half of the economy while avoiding renewed coronavirus outbreaks.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

The government is expected next week to start easing restrictions on movement in order to start the process of getting Israel’s economy back on its feet, Israel Hayom reported Thursday.

The first steps of easing the harsh restrictions that has hamstrung the economy will begin on Sunday, but the details are still being hashed out by the finance and health ministries of how to get Israelis back to work and school while avoiding new coronavirus outbreaks.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is holding consultations as to what the schedule will be for the slow, staggered, and controlled opening of businesses that have been closed in order to slow the spread of the pandemic.

The health ministry agrees that economic activity must be restored, but wants that to be at a level much lower than what the finance and industry ministries are calling for, the report said.

While travel, culture and leisure industries will remain closed officials appear to be in agreement that the target is to restore the level of economic activity to 50 percent of what it was before the crisis. Finance officials want street shops and malls to reopen, but the Ministry of Health wants to keep them closed to minimize the possibility of infection.

“High-tech enterprises have remained open throughout the crisis and it is agreed they will continue to operate,” Minister of Economy Eli Cohen said.

Our position is that street and shopping malls must also be put back into operation, as these are hundreds of thousands of workers. This should be done under restrictions of social distancing and precautions for wearing masks and gloves and limiting the number of shoppers at any given moment.”

Cohen said that thanks to the conservative measures taken at the beginning of the crisis including orders for people to stay at home, Israel had avoided the high casualty numbers that had been feared.

Defense Minister Naphtali Bennett said the policy for both the economy and education system had to switch from using a hammer to using pinpoint measures. He said Israel should immediately restart the economy, restore trade and start schools from kindergarten to third grade. Bennett says most businesses in Israel can be opened now with the exception of cultural and leisure industries.

To protect senior citizens who are most vulnerable to the virus, Bennett wants people 65 and over as well as workers with existing illnesses to remain quarantined in their homes to keep them from being infected.

“The economic and medical damage and the damage to Israel’s national power from continuing the closure is incomparably greater than the direct medical risk of the corona, which is manageable,” Bennett said.

However, officials cautioned that the country is not even close to returning to normal.

“The word routine is dangerous,  and it is dangerous and not correct to say we are returning to it,” an unnamed official told Israel Hayom, emphasizing it will be a new routine and it is more correct to say it will be a different method of coping.

With the education system and major sectors of the economy shut down by stay-at-home orders, unemployment has skyrocketed in a matter of weeks from just under four percent to over 26 percent. There are fears that a prolonged closure could cause long-term damage to Israel’s previously thriving economy.