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Almost 1,000 doctors said to be in quarantine; 635 nurses

Coronavirus cases in Israel rise to 143; three patients in serious condition

Total of 34 new infections confirmed Friday as government reportedly weighs new, even tougher restrictions to contain virus, worship to be limited over Sabbath

Women wearing protective masks visit the nearly deserted Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on March 12, 2020, after Israel imposed some of the world's tightest restrictions to contain the new coronavirus. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)
Women wearing protective masks visit the nearly deserted Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City on March 12, 2020, after Israel imposed some of the world's tightest restrictions to contain the new coronavirus. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel rose to 143 on Friday, with three people infected with the virus in serious condition and eight people in moderate condition, the Health Ministry said as the country continued imposing ever stricter measures in a bid to halt the pandemic.

According to the ministry, 106 people diagnosed with the new coronavirus were hospitalized, with another 1 set to be brought to a medical center. It said 23 patients were being quarantined at home.

The number of Israelis to recover from the virus remained at three. There have been no deaths from the virus in Israel.

There was no immediate information on any of the 34 new cases confirmed Friday.

Some 35,000 Israelis are reported to be in self-quarantine. Among them are almost 1,000 doctors and over 634 nurses, Channel 13 news said Friday evening.

Illustrative: An ambulance carrying a patient displaying symptoms of the coronavirus, as the vehicle arrives at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer on February 28, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The rise in coronavirus cases came as the government was reportedly considering further measures to contain the spread of the virus, including banning non-essential workers from workplaces and limiting public transportation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday said there was “no reason to storm supermarkets,” amid concerns restrictions to contain the virus could stem food supplies.

The mounting cases have led ministry officials to estimate that thousands of Israelis could already be infected without being diagnosed.

Also Friday, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett ordered the creation of three facilities to house potential thousands of carriers of the coronavirus with mild symptoms, in order to free up space in hospitals for more seriously ill patients.

As the Sabbath begun Friday evening, synagogues throughout the country were expected to limit attendance to 100 people, as per Health Ministry instructions, with some splitting up worshipers to several locations to avoid crowding. Shuls with cramped spaces were expected to further limit attendance to prevent close contact between congregants. People at higher risk were instructed to pray at home.

Israel’s chief rabbis cautioned religious Jews to avoid visiting the Western Wall for large prayer gatherings.

The nation’s schools and universities were also closed as of Friday morning until further notice, as Netanyahu called on the public to “refrain as much as possible from gatherings in general.”

Though preschools and kindergartens had been set to open, Haaretz reported that hundreds of teachers in those institutions had called in sick, in an apparent protest at the decision not to keep them shut as well.

The Education Ministry asserted, however, that 85 percent of preschools had opened as usual.

A school bag lies in front of a school in the central coastal city of Netanya on March 13, 2020, after schools and universities in Israel were ordered to close as part of measures to contain the coronavirus. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Theaters in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and around the country shut their doors for the foreseeable future amid a ban on gatherings of 100 people or more went into effect.

On Friday the Culture and Sports Ministry announced that all sporting events in the country would be stopped until further notice.

Across the world, authorities have canceled sporting events, theater productions, TV show tapings, concerts and anything that draws a crowd in a frantic effort to keep the virus from spreading in places where people congregate.

In Tel Aviv, the Habima and Cameri theaters closed their doors to comply with the ban on gatherings. It was the first time in Habima’s 103-year history that it was closed, according to Channel 12 news. The Jerusalem Theater also announced it would be closing.

New Health Ministry directives announced Wednesday urged organizers to cancel events and put a strict cap of 100 people on any event that does go ahead. The order, which went into effect Thursday, applies to weddings, bar mitzvahs and funerals, and covers “both closed and open spaces,” according to the Health Ministry.

The closures are just the latest blow wrought by a series of measures that have seen public life in Israel and around the world contract significantly in the hopes of cutting down meetings between people and chances for the virus to spread.

The travel industry is continuing to reel from a near-all encompassing ban on incoming tourists. Some 100 hotels throughout Israel were closing to visitors, according to Hebrew media reports Thursday. Another 100 hotels were expected to close on Sunday, according to the reports.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (right) and Health Ministry General Manager Moshe Bar Siman-Tov at a press conference about the coronavirus COVID-19, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2020. Netanyahu is explaining how the coronavirus can spread from a sneeze. (Flash90)

On Thursday, Netanyahu called the pandemic “a global event unlike anything” the country had seen. He warned that “the potential number of deaths is very high and we must take action to prevent that.”

He said Israel’s efforts were focused on slowing the spread of the virus so that it doesn’t cause masses of ill people to require medical attention at the same time and overwhelm the health care system.

He called on his political rival, the Blue and White party headed by Benny Gantz, to join him and immediately form a temporary emergency government following a year-long political deadlock. Gantz has indicated a willingness to do so, though the terms of such a government were not immediately clear.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said his ministry was aiming to greatly expand the number of Israelis tested every day for COVID-19, from the current 600 to 2,000 and more.

Wednesday’s new restrictions were announced as the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic.

Worldwide, there have been over 134,00 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and over 5,600 deaths since it first emerged in China in December, according to AFP figures.

To curb the spread of the virus in the country, all Israelis returning from overseas are required to quarantine at home for 14 days. Non-Israeli nationals were barred from entering the country as of Thursday at 8 p.m., unless they can demonstrate an ability to self-quarantine for two weeks.

The quarantine measures are among the most dramatic to be introduced by any nation in the intensifying battle against the coronavirus. On February 26, Israel had become the first country in the world to advise its citizens against all non-essential overseas travel.

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