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Health Ministry warns Israelis may have to be confined to their homes

Officials say general closure could be possible down the line, as they gather to consider next steps to stem spread of virus

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 Health Ministry said it was considering dramatically increasing its restrictions on movement in a bid to further slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“We may ask people to leave the house less, and only for necessary errands. The government is considering a general closure on all citizens, and if that happens it would mean all age groups will be asked to stay home until further notice,” the ministry’s deputy director general, Itamar Grotto, said Monday.

Grotto also said the ministry was “planning greater oversight for the population over 70, which is at risk. We’re preparing now for hospitals to be able to hold the corona patients who will need treatment, and most of the less urgent patients will be in home hospitalization, unless they cannot be hospitalized at home for socioeconomic or family reasons.”

The comments came amid a new round of consultations by senior officials over increasingly drastic measures to limit contact and slow the virus’s spread.

“For the time being, a general shutdown of the economy isn’t planned,” an unnamed senior official told reporters on Monday. But, he added, “the government is preparing to cut back on public transportation.”

A worker at a pizzeria in the central coastal city of Netanya prepares a pizza for takeout on March 15, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened the latest meeting together with the ministers of finance, health, economy and transportation, the head of the National Security Council and senior officials from relevant ministries.

The Monday afternoon meeting was to examine further ways to limit human contact while also reducing the cost for the Israeli economy of the near-total shutdown of business and travel in the country.

Netanyahu is expected to deliver a public announcement about the conclusions of the meeting on Monday evening.

On Saturday, the government announced the latest wave of restrictions, saying all educational institutions would be shuttered and gatherings limited to no more than 10 people at any one time.

On Sunday, all “non-essential” businesses, including malls, restaurants and most stores, were shut down.

Over 50,000 Israelis are currently in quarantine and at least 255 are confirmed infected with the virus.

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