Economy minister says lockdown of whole country still a possibility

Officials considering dramatically increasing restrictions on movement for all Israelis in a bid to further slow the spread of the coronavirus

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Minister of Economy and Industry Eli Cohen attends a party faction meeting in Tel Aviv on April 1, 2019. (Flash90)
Minister of Economy and Industry Eli Cohen attends a party faction meeting in Tel Aviv on April 1, 2019. (Flash90)

Economy Minister Eli Cohen said Tuesday morning that the government was considering dramatically increasing its restrictions on movement for all Israelis in a bid to further slow the spread of the coronavirus and may still introduce a complete lockdown.

“A general closure is a possibility that is being talked about,” Cohen told Army Radio the morning after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a series of other measures that would see the majority of workers in the public and private sectors placed on leave, but stopped short of imposing a nationwide lockdown.

“We aren’t locking people in their homes. We aren’t announcing a full lockdown — and I hope we won’t get to it,” the prime minister said, adding that “we will impose local lockdowns in places where there is an outbreak.”

On Monday, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman announced his ministry was mulling such a lockdown on the community of Kiryat Ye’arim (Telz-Stone), just outside Jerusalem, after eight locals were confirmed infected with COVID-19 and over 1,500 were quarantined.

The ministry was awaiting the test results from five additional families in the Haredi community of some 6,000 before making a final decision, according to the Kikar Hashabat website.

Kiryat Ye’arim, a small town near Jerusalem. June 29, 2010. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Among those ill with the virus in the town were several members of a single family and a woman who recently gave birth. Kiryat Ye’arim is home to a post-natal recovery center and a person ill with the coronavirus paid a visit there earlier this month before their diagnosis, according to the ministry’s detailed itineraries of the infected.

Among the new restrictions, Netanyahu announced Monday that the public sector would reduce its work force by up to 80 percent, with the numbers varying by office. Government employees will be placed on leave at the expense of vacation days until after Passover.

Private businesses will be forced to reduce their in-office staff by 70% beginning Wednesday, he said, sending the employees to work from home or placed on leave. This does not apply to businesses with 10 workers or less.

“I know this is a difficult time. Many people will be home and not at work. Many are concerned, perhaps they won’t have enough money,” added the prime minister, saying the government would provide an “economic safety net” for all Israelis.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem on March 16, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Essential services such as healthcare, supermarkets, pharmacies and banks are remaining open, said Netanyahu.

On Tuesday morning, the Health Ministry reported six more confirmed cases of the new coronoavirus, bringing the country’s total to 304.

According to the ministry, four people are currently in serious condition with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, while another 11 are moderately ill.

The vast majority of the confirmed carriers of the virus – 284 of the 304 — are displaying only light symptoms. Another five people are no longer sick and are recuperating, the ministry said, up one from the day before.

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