The rate of unemployment in Israel has risen by approximately 400% since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, as businesses falter in the face of stringent measures taken to halt the spread.
According to data released Sunday, the unemployment rate currently stands at 16.5%, compared to the 4% level the country had before the crisis began.
The Employment Service said that 8,050 people have registered as unemployed on its website since Saturday. They join the 511,965 people who have registered since the beginning of March.
Finance Ministry Director General Shai Babad called the statistics worse than a nightmare.
“This is an incomprehensible number," he said. "In our darkest dreams we never thought we would reach these numbers.”
He said that the government has taken financial steps to assist both workers and employers and expressed the hope that the situation would change once the crisis was over.
"As long as we are all in quarantine and under strict measures, employees will need to stay on unpaid leave and we need to wait and see when the quarantine ends that people can go back to work as normal,” he said.
"We have postponed small businesses' utility payments and in addition they have been given a grant of NIS 6,000 per month until Passover," he said, referring to the week-long Jewish festival that begins April 8.
"This is in addition to a loan fund for up to half a million shekels, which will aid these businesses.”
Babad added that while these measures are unprecedented, they are still not enough and steps were being taken to help those who are self-employed.
“Over the next two days, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon will convene the senior staff at the country’s treasury and we will prepare a support package meant to aid freelancers and independent workers. We will do all in our power to make sure that everyone survives this crisis.”
There was however a significant slowdown in the number of people registering for unemployment over the weekend, with the number of newly registered unemployed reaching at approximately 700 per hour, the first time the hourly increase has dropped to less than a thousand.
It is too early to know whether this slowdown is a long-term phenomenon, as a widespread quarantine across Israel will undoubtedly impact on other branches of the economy, resulting in even more people being placed on unpaid leave.
New emergency regulations that came in to effect Sunday morning have also had further impact on the workforce.
Among the restrictions is the closure of all retail markets and open-air markets, including food and wholesale markets.
In order to enforce these regulations, police are visiting sites such as Carmel market Tel Aviv, where they ordered the closure of all the stalls.
The head of the Israeli Employment Service Rami Garor said: “If this situation continues we will most likely reach a million unemployed, about a quarter of all employees in the markets. About 20% of all those who are on unpaid leave will most likely permanently lose their jobs by the end of the crisis.”
Due to the massive number of unemployed, many fear their unemployment benefits will be delayed.
“I hope the National Insurance Institute is ready and can deliver all payments on time,” Garor said. “We are doing everything in our power to ensure that all those who are eligible for payments will receive them before Passover.”
On Sunday, the Employment Service was to begin transferring approximately 100,000 claims daily to the NII so it can transfer benefits as soon as possible.