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Small businesses, self-employed threaten ‘anarchy’ if new lockdown imposed

Small businesses and self-employed workers are threatening “anarchy” and saying that if the government decides to impose a complete lockdown on the economy, as expected in the coming weeks, they will keep their businesses open unless they are promised financial compensation in advance.

At a press conference in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Roee Cohen, the president of the Israel Federation of Small Business Organizations, said that “another closure is a death sentence for businesses” and that the government has “long lost its legitimacy in the eyes of the public,” including the business sector.

“I doubt business owners will obey the government’s instructions and close business once again,” he said. “Unfortunately, this time it will not happen. We are marching towards anarchy. We have children to worry about and mouths to feed,” and at the end of the day “they are the ones we will have in front of our eyes, and not the fines” imposed by inspectors. “The fear that we will not have bread on the table is greater and more real than the fear of getting infected with the coronavirus.”

Israel could soon be returning to a full national lockdown for more than a month “amid skyrocketing coronavirus infection rates”, according to reports citing comments made Tuesday night in a videoconference with top Health Ministry officials and hospital chiefs.

Small business owners and self-employed people in Israel were among the most affected by the lockdown Israel imposed earlier this year to fend off the coronavirus pandemic, and they took to the streets to fight for compensation. Now, amid a second wave of the virus and record infection rates, the threat of a second complete lockdown looms large.

The Health Ministry said Wednesday that “3,506 new coronavirus cases were confirmed over the previous day in one of the highest daily figures since the start of the pandemic”.

Figures released on Wednesday by the Federation of Small Business Organizations warned that the cost of a lockdown during the Jewish High Holidays, which start on September 18, would be NIS 13.6 billion ($4 billion). For the wholesale and retail trade and food and hospitality services industries, the hit is expected to be NIS 4.8 billion, and the damage to the art, entertainment and leisure industry will total NIS 1.6 billion for the lockdown period.

Shai Berman, the CEO of the association of restaurants and bars, said that the sector entered the coronavirus pandemic with 14,000 active businesses and 203,000 employees, he said. Today, because of the first lockdown and the social distancing measures imposed in a bid to stem the spread of the virus, there are 12,000 active businesses and just 120,000 employees working in the sector.

A renewed lockdown will lead to the closure of an additional 2,000 businesses in the restaurant and bar sector, he said, and the firing of an additional 20,000 workers. “There is a great deal of doubt” whether business owners will “comply with government instructions perfectly,” Berman said at the press conference.

The specter of a renewed lockdown comes as 40 towns and neighborhoods across the country awoke after their first overnight curfew, ordered by the government in an effort to slow the virus spread in areas with high infection rates. However, those measures largely went unenforced and are seen by many as ineffective.

The federation’s Cohen said that business owners will again take to the streets to call attention to their plight.

“Mr. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in the current reality, business owners will not close their businesses,” Cohen said at the press conference.

“We have lost faith in you, in the legitimacy of your decisions, in your conduct towards us. This contempt will bring disaster on the Israeli economy. The business sector will not cooperate with the government,” and businesses will not shut down “without compensation in advance.”

The government was failing to make data-based decisions, he charged, because there is no data, and it is working under political pressure that “transcends economic and health considerations.”

Cohen promised that on Saturday the business sector will join the weekly demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem if it is not promised compensation in advance of a lockdown.

“We will return to the streets,” he said. The matter transcends politics, he said. There will be no left or right.”

Source: Shoshanna Solomon – TOI