The prime minister, the minister of finance, the governor of the Bank of Israel, and the director general of the Ministry of Finance held a press conference today at which they presented the measures the government is taking to deal with the economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened the conference by saying, "The presentations will be short. The minister of finance and the director general of the Ministry of Health will speak after me. I will have to leave for a call with Debbie Birx, the US official responsible." Deborah Birx is the coronavirus response coordinator in the White House.
"We are maintaining constant contact through our National Security Council, and that is vital for dealing with the crisis," Netanyahu said. "Today the discussion is economic. We are monitoring events closely; the coronavirus is having a big impact on the global economy and on us. We are entering this crisis in a relatively good economic state: unemployment is low, growth is high, the debt to GDP ratio is good, our banking system is robust. These are great advantages in confronting this crisis.
"Nevertheless, the challenge is great; everyone feels it, and it can be dealt with in such way that we get through the crisis intact. Not without difficulty, not without sacrifice, but together in the best possible way. Our aim is to enable the economy to function uninterruptedly. We are allocating an immediate package of NIS 10 billion - NIS 6 billion on top of the NIS 4 billion already announced. This is first aid to be applied as needed. We will monitor the situation daily. We will provide additional aid.
"NIS 1 billion will go to saving life, to the health system. We are expanding the stock of drugs, and preparing medical teams and hospitals. The second matter is expanding the aid fund for businesses. It will rise from NIS 4 billion to NIS 8 billion, after consultation with the minister of finance and the governor of the Bank of Israel. We are doubling the fund. A business that has been harmed can apply for aid from the fund. We have reduced the interest rate charged. It should be made clear that anyone can apply for aid.
"We have launched a dedicated website to be accessible and enable you to apply and ask for aid. The tourism industry will be given priority. But any affected can apply for aid through a cash flow fund.
"There is no shortage of goods in Israel. Most of our shipping is by sea and we will ensure that it is mot impaired. We will introduce relaxations for importers bringing in raw materials; there will be no raw materials shortage. Supply by air: we will do everything necessary to enable it. We will draft in the Air Force and the airlines. The aviation industry is a separate matter and we will deal with it separately and individually. It's important to understand that this is a vital artery and we will safeguard it.
"Another NIS 1 billion will go to special needs, including the police, the fire service, prisons. We are considering how to deal with the prisons without getting into the problems we have seen in other countries. Maintenance of vital services, the gas production platforms, senior citizens homes, and so on. All this is first aid, and we will monitor developments and grant further aid," the prime minister concluded.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on March 11, 2020
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