Health Ministry urges Israelis to vote, says no need to worry about coronavirus

16 special polling stations to serve the 5,630 people in quarantine; ministry, PM say outbreak ‘under control’

Workers disinfect a shop in Or Yehuda, after a man who works at the shop and returned from Italy tested positive for coronavirus, February 28, 2020. (Flash90)
Workers disinfect a shop in Or Yehuda, after a man who works at the shop and returned from Italy tested positive for coronavirus, February 28, 2020. (Flash90)

The director-general of the Health Ministry on Sunday said Israelis should not hesitate to go out and vote in Monday’s national elections, and should not be deterred by the deadly coronavirus.

“The situation is under control. Everyone who was infected with the coronavirus, we know where they were infected and this is important… it’s safe to go vote. Don’t hesitate… go vote,” Moshe Bar Siman-Tov said in a video statement.

Bar Siman-Tov said 16 special polling stations across the country have been set up for the 5,630 people who are under home quarantine after returning from trips abroad and there are special instructions for those individuals.

“For everyone else, I say, go vote, everything is safe and you don’t need to worry,” he said.

Screen capture from video of Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Simantov talking about coronavirus precautions taken ahead of the elections, March 1, 2020. (Twitter)

In a statement, the Health Ministry added that the general public need not take any special precautions when voting, though it urged voters and those staffing polling stations to maintain proper hygiene.

“The [voting] booths in Israel are safe and it is safe to go and vote,” the ministry said.

During a visit to a Magen David Adom ambulance service emergency center on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also declared that there was nothing to fear and that proper measures have been taken to ensure a safe election.

“We care about the health of the citizens. You can go to vote without concern, things are under control,” Netanyahu said during the visit, which he made together with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, the Ynet website reported. “We are in the midst of a global crisis, but there is no country that is better prepared than us.”

As the novel coronavirus spreads around the world, the Health Ministry instructed Israelis returning from several countries where the virus was detected to self-quarantine. So far, seven Israelis have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The special voting stations for those in quarantine will be set up in Jerusalem, Safed, Afula Illit, Haifa, Netanya, Tel Aviv, Holon, Beersheba, Ashkelon, Eilat, Rosh Ha’ayin, Modiin, and Kfar Saba, the Health Ministry said.

Those in quarantine were instructed to take precautions such as putting on face masks before they exit their vehicles and to try to make the trip to the voting station without being accompanied by others who are not in quarantine. They are also prohibited from stopping along the way to and from the voting stations.

Anyone who shows symptoms of the disease is forbidden from using even the special voting stations, the ministry warned.

A Magen David Adom paramedic performs a coronavirus test on a volunteer at the coronavirus national operations center in Kiryat Ono, February 26, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The ministry also sought to prevent false reports of coronavirus cases which may scare voters away from participating in the election, stressing that “the only official source of information on suspected coronavirus cases is the Ministry of Health.”

Also Sunday, Netanyahu’s chief rival in the election, Blue and White party leader MK Benny Gantz, accused the prime minister’s Likud party of spreading fake reports about the coronavirus to suppress turnout on election day among supporters of his centrist alliance.

Gantz was referring to news reports that parts of a mall in the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim were closed due to suspicions that a shopper was infected with the virus. In the previous elections in September, 50.32 percent of votes cast in Givatayim went to Blue and White, while 17.32% went to Likud.

Responding to the accusation, the Likud party issued a statement asserting that “Gantz is talking nonsense.”

“A vaccine for the coronavirus will be found before [Gantz] finds a way to form a government without [Joint List MK] Ahmad Tibi.” Likud wrote on its Twitter account.

Israel has taken far-reaching steps to prevent an outbreak, banning entry to foreigners who were in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Italy in the 14 days prior to arriving, and compelling all Israelis recently in these areas to self-quarantine for 14 days.

People wearing face masks at Ben Gurion International Airport on February 27, 2020. (Photo by Flash90)

In a dramatic statement Wednesday, the Health Ministry urged Israelis to seriously consider refraining from traveling abroad.

Israel is the first country to urge its citizens to refrain from international travel entirely because of the outbreak, which started in China in December and has since infected over 85,000 worldwide and claimed over 2,900 lives, almost all of them in China.

The Health Ministry has faced criticism for its extreme measures, with some saying it is unnecessarily panicking people and causing economic and diplomatic damage to the country. Ministry officials have said they prefer to take a strict line than be sorry later.

Israel heads to its third national election in a year on Monday.

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