Israel drafting emergency economic plan to combat coronavirus impact

TEL AVIV, March 23 (Reuters) - Israel’s Finance Ministry is putting together an emergency stimulus plan to help businesses and the economy deal with the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, a ministry spokeswoman said on Monday.

The plan will be presented in the coming days to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who on Sunday met with Israel’s economic leaders and instructed them to devise a strategy for managing the economy as unemployment claims skyrocket.

Netanyahu said the relief package should focus on assistance for the self-employed, wage earners, businesses and households. It builds on an initial government aid package of 15 billion shekels ($4.1 billion).

Israel is on partial lockdown. People have been told to stay home as much as possible and many businesses have closed. Israel has 1,238 confirmed coronavirus cases, and most patients have only mild symptoms.

Data show that more than 500,000 Israelis have become unemployed since the start of March, which would bring the jobless rate to about 16.5%, up from 3.6% in the fourth quarter.

Israel’s largest workers union, Histadrut, said the government must inject money into the economy now to prevent a domino effect that would lead to a recession and unending unemployment checks.

The Bank of Israel, which announced on Monday it would purchase 50 billion shekels in government bonds to ease credit conditions and support financial stability, will submit its own economic plan as well.

$1 = 3.6697 shekels Reporting by Steven Scheer, Editing by Ari Rabinovitch