Israeli officials talk of mass shutdown, locking people in homes to halt contagion

Health officials are calling for a nationwide lockdown.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

One of the first countries to take coronavirus seriously, Israel has enacted ever more draconian strictures in the past weeks to combat the deadly contagion. However, it is still not enough for senior members of Israel’s Health Ministry.

“Ministry of Health officials are again urging the prime minister to impose a general closure and declare a state of emergency, so that only infrastructure and workplaces that are defined as necessary will be allowed to operate,” Yediot Ahronot reports on Monday.

The senior officials say a mass quarantine is necessary in order to prevent a massive uptick in the number of cases, the report says. The Israeli health system is preparing to carry out a drill in which 1,000s become sick and the mortality rate from the disease spikes.

As of Monday morning, 250 cases have been reported with five in serious condition.

“Corona is out of control,” an unnamed director of a major hospital told the paper.

“The numbers of patients, which are only very partial because of the limited scope of the tests, is rising rapidly, indicating that the disease is spreading quickly in the community. There are probably thousands of patients nowadays…

“If this rapid spread is to be stopped, you have to quarantine the public in their houses,” the hospital director said.

The paper also quotes a senior official at the Health Ministry who said, “At the current stage of the epidemic, there is no way to avoid the necessity of a widespread shutdown, despite the great public opposition that is anticipated by such a move.”

“The situation in Italy and Spain is catastrophic, and other countries, including the U.S., are on the way to finding themselves in a similar crisis. At this stage there is no more room for hesitation,” the official said.

The official urged that the situation be handed over to the Defense Ministry.

Hard-hit Italy reported 3,590 new cases and 368 deaths in just 24 hours on Sunday.

The U.S., which had been slow to address the virus, has caught up fast, with health officials recommending that groups of 50 or more don’t get together and a government expert saying a 14-day national shutdown may be needed, The Associated Press reports.

Israel has been gradually upping the ante in its fight against the coronavirus. It began by ordering those returning from high-risk areas, first in Asia, to submit to self-imposed home quarantine for a two-week period. At one point in the early stages, Israel turned back a South Korean plane which had just landed.

The country has since called for all returning travelers to enter quarantine, reduced gatherings first from 5,000 people to 2,000 to 100 and then to 10, and put public transportation on a reduced schedule, among other measures.