Photo Credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90
Israeli Police at a temporary checkpoint in Jerusalem during a nationwide lockdown.

On Monday night, the Israeli government approved the proposed economic plan submitted by the prime minister and the finance minister for extending immediate assistance to businesses, employees, and the self-employed affected by the lockdown.

The lockdown is expected to last at least until after the end of the holiday of Sukkot, Sunday, October 11.

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As part of the NIS 10.5 billion (roughly $3 billion) plan which was presented on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the threshold for receiving a one-time grant has been significantly lowered and advances will be given to the qualifying recipients.

Among the measures included in the new assistance are a plan for the retention of workers; postponement of the reduction in unemployment benefits; an immediate grant of 50% of the fixed expenses grant; and the extension of assistance in property taxes for individuals who’ve lost more than a quarter of their income.

Also, the cabinet decided to budget another grant program to encourage online commerce and digital activity for small and medium-sized businesses.

And while those helpful measures are being put in place, the Corona Cabinet will convene on Tuesday to discuss the possibility of tightening the countrywide lockdown, with emphasis on invigorated enforcement.

Health Ministry Director-General Professor Hezi Levy speaks during a press conference about the novel coronavirus, in Jerusalem on June 21, 2020. / Flash 90

The Health Ministry director-general, Professor Yechezkel (Hezi) Levy, said that by the end of the week, about 800 seriously ill patients are expected in Israel. As of Tuesday, the number is 653. Also, the Health Ministry published on Tuesday morning an improved picture of the spread of the coronavirus in Israel, with 3,027 new patients on Monday, a significant drop from 4,300 and 4,531 in the previous two days.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the heads of the Health Ministry claim that the lockdown must be tightened even more, while Corona Czar Prof. Ronni Gamzu insists that the current guidelines should be given an opportunity to show results.

So far, it appears that Tuesday’s cabinet meeting is not expected to impose new restrictions on prayer houses and Gamzu’s recommendation will be accepted. So, for now, synagogues will not be closed and the capsules format will remain in place.

As part of the assistance provided to businesses, the government decided to expand the fixed expenditure grant so that in September-October an assistance grant will be transferred to business owners who have been affected by a 25% or more drop in their turnover compared to the same period last year. If necessary, the extension of relief to November-December was also approved.

Another step approved by the government is the transfer of an immediate down payment on the September-October grant, amounting to 50% of the fixed expenditure grant for businesses that are expected to be affected by the current closure.

To assist businesses whose activities have been affected, it was decided to issue a one-time grant that encourages the continued employment of workers in September and October and will be paid by the Ministry of Economy.

A business owner will be eligible to a grant if his or her annual turnover does not exceed NIS 400 million ($116 million), and the turnover of his transactions during the eligibility period decreased by 25% or more from the same period last year.

A business will be eligible to a grant equal to NIS 5,000 ($1,445) times the number of legitimate employees, with the number of eligible employees depending on the degree of harm endured by the business. The harder the business gets hit – the bigger its eligibility.

Also, businesses that have experienced a 25% or more decline in their turnover will receive a full exemption from paying local property taxes for the months of September-October, and the state will pay for it.

Another step approved under the plan is the postponement of the date from which the unemployment benefit reduction mechanism will begin. The decline threshold will only be deliberated starting October 16, and the reduction, at this stage, will be postponed.

To finance the measures included in the plan, the cabinet approved an increase of NIS 2.5 billion ($723 million) of government expenditure for 2020, and NIS 8 billion ($2.3 billion) for 2021. These increases will hold even though this government is yet to submit an annual budget for either 2020 or 2021.

Health Ministry director-general Levy on Monday commented on the increase in morbidity in the country and the enormous load felt in hospitals, saying: “The word ‘red line’ does not mean we will stop hospitalizing, I ordered today to open another ward in each hospital. Today, the health system in Israel provides care which is among the best in the Western world, but the more patients there are, the more the level of care may drop, and this is not desirable. The question is what will be the level of treatment and how will other patients who need treatment pay. “Without a doubt, as the number exceeds 800 severe Corona patients and the attention of staff will have to be directed to all the patients, we will find it difficult to offer proper treatment.”

The huge traffic jams that blocked the country’s roads on Monday, when police officers were still taking the lockdown seriously, drew much public criticism. As a result, the police decided to remove some of the checkpoints and thus make the lockdown more “breathing and skipping.” So help me, that’s how they called it.

Police announced that there won’t be huge traffic jams as there were on Sunday, but the checkpoints will return and enforcement will still be carried out.

The Jerusalem police, enforcing the lockdown guidelines in Israel’s most infected city, stressed: “We will continue to question people and enforce the closure.”

It’s all we ask.

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