Netanyahu announced strict new guidelines to combat the coronavirus.
By David Isaac, World Israel News
In a dramatic move that brings home the danger with which Israel’s government views the swiftly spreading coronavirus, the prime minister announced tough new guidelines on Saturday evening. He stopped short however of declaring a national emergency.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of a “new life routine” and that Israel is “at war” with the virus. “Like every war you have to identify the enemy,” he said. “We’re in a war that requires special conditions.”
He said he was amazed that people have still not internalized the risks, noting he still sees people at events hugging, shaking hands and ignoring the guideline on keeping a distance of two meters.
Netanyahu also struck a positive note at the start of his talk, saying “We’re in a better situation than many of the countries in the world.”
Prof. Sigal Sadetzki, Director of Public Health Services in the Health Ministry, took the podium after Netanyahu and said the virus doesn’t respect any class or social status.
Shai Babad, Director General of the Ministry of Finance, spoke afterwards. He said that all entertainment places, such as cafes, malls and restaurants are to be closed. Pre-schools will also be closed. Gatherings of more than 10 people would be forbidden.
However, in contradiction to Israeli media reports earlier that evening, he said limits would not be placed on private workplaces. He did urge private employers to let their employees work from home.
Israeli media had reported that the number of people allowed to work from offices would be restricted to ensure that workers keep the minimum two meter distance between one another as recommended by the health services.
In a demonstration of the importance of this guideline, the ministers in attendance at the prime minister’s speech sat at a distance of two meters from each other.
Media also said that in government offices, 70 percent of the workers will conduct their work remotely with only 30 percent working from offices.
Public transportation would be limited though details on what that would mean in practice were not given. According to Israeli media, the Health Ministry recommended closing public transportation altogether, a request that was resisted by other ministries.
Supermarkets and corner stores will continue to stay open and operate as usual. Government officials said earlier that there is no food shortage. It is rumored that limitations will be placed on how much people can buy in order to prevent panic buying.
Israel’s Channel 12 reported that after midnight on Friday, Moshe Bar-Siman-Tov, director general of the Health Ministry, urged that the government declare a state of emergency.
He argued that doing so was necessary to bring home the health danger to Israelis, who he said hadn’t internalized the risks as evidenced by their failure to guard a two-meter distance in public and the fact that parents were still bringing their children to playgrounds.
The number of those infected with the virus in Israel jumped to 178 by Saturday evening with two listed in serious condition.
Prof. Gabriel Barbash, former CEO of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, told Channel 12 that hundreds of people may be infected without showing symptoms and there is a danger they could infect thousands more.
Israel has gradually sharpened its efforts to fight the virus, first reducing flights from abroad to, most recently, closing the school system until the end of the Passover holiday in mid-April.
Israel’s streets, malls and restaurants were noticeably empty by the end of the week even before the new regulations were announced on Saturday, indicating that virus fears had already gripped the public.