Israel’s ministries clash as government sets to loosen economy this week

The finance minister lambasted the Health Ministry for appearing to block all moves to restart Israel’s economy.

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Finance and health officials met Monday to approve a series of steps to loosen the economy in order to allow for a wider range of businesses to open by the end of the week.

Aside from allowing shopping malls, markets and health clubs to reopen this coming Friday, the government is expected to allow open-air weddings with up to 50 people beginning Sunday as well as gatherings of up to 20 people outdoors.

In the past day only 41 new coronavirus infections were confirmed and the government is moving to restart Israel’s moribund economy in order to lower the unemployment rate that soared to 26 percent.

The decision to speed up business openings was not without friction. Worried about a resurgence of infections, Health Ministry officials sought to put limits on the openings, including registering every shopper entering and exiting malls and requiring a designated “coronavirus supervisor” in every business whose job it is to monitor compliance with health rules.

That last rule could mean that single-person businesses might not be allowed to open because of the impossibility of one person doing both jobs.

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Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon slammed the health officials for putting up roadblocks before every economic decision, saying the public was confused by the complicated conditions being set.

“In cannot be that the monopoly power of the Ministry of Health will torpedo any decision it does not seem to like, which makes government meetings worthless,” Kahlon said.

Economics needs certainty and a horizon, and it also has a lot of psychology. When the public on the one hand sees impressive recovery data with the number of recoveries [from coronavirus] increasing every day and the number of patients is shrinking, and [on the other hand] we tell them the opposite, they are not not buying it.

Also in the works is an end to the restriction on leaving homes for only essential tasks. For over a month Israelis have been mostly limited to staying within 100 meters of their residences except for buying food and medicine or going to work if they were allowed to.

With an air of “return to normal,” the government will still have a tough task enforcing social distancing and making sure Israelis continue to wear masks in public.

Binding conditions are expected to be enacted for places that are open to the public to make sure that failure to comply with the new health situation will constitute a criminal offense. Mall owners would face a 5,000 shekel ($1,750) fine for violations on their premises.

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The head of the Business Sector in Israel, an umbrella organization of large businesses, criticized the health ministry for “seriously sabotaging the economic recovery plan.”

“After a strenuous three days of work with the Finance Ministry on an orderly plan for the economy that was scheduled to be finalized this morning, the health ministry found it appropriate to issue a new procedures document at 4:00 a.m. that would prevent any possibility of compliance.”