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Israel set for drastic new restrictions on workplaces, gatherings; no lockdown

The Israeli government is set to announce further widespread and stringent measures to try to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, including transitioning staff at workplaces deemed non-essential to work from home, and further limiting public gatherings and movement. The raft of new measures, in addition to those already in force, are likely to paralyze up to 50 percent of the Israeli economy, TV reports said Friday night.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat Friday with top ministers and advisers working on the next steps and was expected to make the announcements on Saturday night, Hebrew media reported. However, Israel was expected to stop short of declaring a state of emergency or imposing a lockdown or curfews.

Among the steps being discussed and likely to be announced are ordering non-essential workers to work from home, limitations or bans on public transport, shutting preschools and creches, limiting access to some malls and shutting others. Some government workers will also be shifted to working from home, TV reports said. Officials were said to be working to determine how many Israeli workers would be classified as non-essential.

All essential workers and workplaces would continue as usual, with extra staff to be recruited.

The government was also considering releasing prisoners with light sentences to reduce prison crowding.

Despite the devastating effects to the economy, officials have repeatedly promised that there will be no food shortages, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday there was “no reason to storm the supermarkets.”

“We are investing considerable means right now to increase the pace of testing, to reduce the infection rate and – of course – to reinforce, strengthen and safeguard the medical teams, as well as many other things,” Netanyahu said after the Friday meeting.

Like many other places in the world, Israelis have been stocking up on supplies, fearing extended periods of quarantine, lockdown orders, or shortages.

Further financial steps were being planned to help people affected by the crisis, lost work and shut businesses, reports said, including easing criteria for unemployment benefits. Banks would also be encouraged to ease terms for loan repayments.

Channel 12 said Israel was also considering reducing or barring the entry of Palestinian workers from the West Bank and would consider giving the Palestinian Authority some kind of financial compensation to ensure the Palestinian economy did not collapse.

Header: Womens wearing protective masks pay a visit to the nearly deserted Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, after Israel has imposed some of the world’s tightest restrictions to contain COVID-19 coronavirus disease, in Jerusalem on March 12, 2020. – Israel imposed a two-week quarantine on all travellers entering the country, almost stopping tourism and limiting public gatherings as officials confirmed its 100th case of the COVID-19 coronavirus disease. (Photo by Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)