Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Sunday that the government would establish a NIS 4 billion ($1.2 billion) fund to help local companies affected by the global coronavirus crisis.
Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting, the PM called the outbreak a “global pandemic, even if this has not been declared officially” but also said that the situation in Israel is “under control.” In Israel, 39 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December.
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Countries across the world have been grappling with the virus, which has so far claimed the lives of over 3,800 people worldwide, mainly in China, and has been contracted by over 110,000 globally, as of March 9. Outside of China, the country with the highest death rate has been Italy, followed by Iran.
Israel has taken a number of measures to contain the spread, including barring non-residents from the country coming in from Italy, China, Thailand, South Korea, and Japan, among others, and ordering 14-day quarantines for people returning from those countries as well as major European nations such as Germany, France, Spain, Austria, and Switzerland. These measures have impacted major industries in Israel – and across the world, including the tourism and aviation sectors and the high-tech field.
On Sunday, Netanyahu announced a number of additional steps Israel would take in the coming weeks, including the assistance fund for companies affected economically by the spread of the virus. Plans for the fund were presented at the cabinet meeting by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon.
Kahlon said at the meeting that NIS 2 billion ($573.7 million) would be designated to the fund immediately to support small businesses and the remaining NIS 2 billion would be provided later, pending further procedures, according to CTech by Calcalist.
He said the businesses that felt the effects at once, such as airlines and tourism firms, would receive immediate assistance, while others that suffer indirect damages will also be handled.
Nir Barkat, the former Jerusalem mayor and the person Netanyahu said he would tap to be the finance minister in the “next Likud government,” called on the government to initiate a national emergency program based on large-scale direct aid to civil aviation and tourism sectors as well as other businesses, Globes reported.
“Direct aid and a safety net for the economy will moderate the extent of bankruptcy, layoffs, and unemployment, and enable the economy to recover rapidly following the crisis,” he said, according to Globes.
The Bank of Israel said last week that the coronavirus outbreak had not yet made a “significant macroeconomic impact” on the Israeli economy, but that if preventative measures become more serious and persistent and if economic or financial conditions worsen significantly, it would “use the variety of tools at its disposal whenever necessary.”
Fourteen Israelis were added to the list of those who have contracted COVID-19 on Sunday evening, including the first in the country whose source of infection was unknown, bringing the total number of cases to 39.
Seven of the new patients returned from European countries, while six came into contact with sick individuals in Israel.
Netanyahu said Sunday that instead of expanding the list of countries from which returning travelers would be required to enter quarantine, Israel might extend the directive to the entire world.
A decision on the matter has yet to be formally announced to the public.