Israel closes borders to all foreigners as coronavirus spreads

Government order bars foreign nationals from entering Israel effective immediately as coronavirus infection rate skyrockets

By Paul Shindman, World Israel News

Israel on Wednesday closed the door fully on foreigners visiting Israel, barring all non-citizens from entering the country even if they could show they had a place to stay for the mandatory two-week home isolation that was imposed on incoming passengers to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

“Pursuant to recommendations from the Ministry of Health, as of today (Wednesday, 18 March 2020), entry into Israel by foreign nationals will not be permitted, even if they have proven the ability to stay in quarantine,” a Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement said.

Israel last week restricted entry to non-Israelis unless they had arranged to stay in a private residence for the quarantine imposed on everyone arriving from abroad. Hotels were not considered a residence, and the flow of foreigners had slowed to a trickle as the Ministry of Health introduced strict rules to keep Israelis at home and limit person-to-person contact, which is known to spread the virus.

The foreign ministry statement said exceptions would be made “for those whose lives are based in Israel.”

However, anyone arriving would find a country on the verge of being totally shut down by an expected nation-wide curfew in the coming days.

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By Wednesday afternoon Israel had identified 433 carriers of the virus, more than double the total of 200 cases that had been found as of Sunday. With the number of those infected beginning to show exponential growth, officials and experts warned there could be 10,000 cases of coronavirus in  Israel within the next two weeks.

Israel was among the first countries to restrict travel, shut down the education system and order malls and entertainment places to close. Even with the extreme measures the virus continued to spread and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took to the airwaves Tuesday evening, telling Israelis in a televised press conference that the coming days would need even more extreme measures to help stem the disease.

“This is not a child’s game. This is life and death,” the prime minister said, telling the public that cell phone surveillance tools normally used to fight terrorism were starting to be used to track the mobile telephone location of coronavirus carriers. The technology would allow health officials to identify other cell phones near the virus carrier.

By Wednesday evening the Ministry of Health announced it had contacted the first 400 people who had been found to be close enough to an infected person that they now had to be quarantined.

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“In the message sent to them was the date they were in an area near the infected person and thus they were obligated to immediately go into a home isolation,” the ministry statement said.