IDF: Soldiers should prepare for month-long stay on bases amid virus outbreak

Deputy commander of elite Unit 8200 is one of 2,500 service members currently in quarantine; soldier in same unit reportedly tests positive for coronavirus

An IDF soldier has his temperature checked. (Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
An IDF soldier has his temperature checked. (Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

The Israeli military on Saturday said soldiers and service members were expected back on their bases on Sunday after weekend leave as usual, and that those currently in training, serving in combat units, and in “closed” units – where soldiers do not go home on weekends – should prepare to remain on base for at least a month without leave amid efforts to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Access to certain installations and bases would also be restricted.

In a short statement issued Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces said service members reporting back to base should prepare to remain on site for up to 30 days.

The military said it would inform troops how they would travel to their bases amid reports that public transportation may be partially or completely suspended.

As of Saturday, the IDF has principally focused on maintaining its operational capabilities in the face of the COVID-19 coronavirus, but the military was also preparing to step in and assist civilian authorities respond to the disease in the general public.

“Israel’s emergency stores are full and equipped for a variety of scenarios,” Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said Saturday.

Currently, over 2,600 IDF service members were in quarantine according to Health Ministry directives, including the deputy commander of the IDF’s Intelligence Corps Unit 8200. Another soldier in the unit tested positive for the virus last week.

Many of the service members in quarantine had returned to Israel after private travel abroad or had come into contact with someone who’d tested positive for coronavirus, according to the military.

Overall, almost 40,000 Israelis are currently quarantined in their homes across the country as Israel’s confirmed cases climbed to 164 on Saturday afternoon.

“With the development of the coronavirus in Israel, Unit 8200 unit has taken significant preventive measures, stricter than those of the Health Ministry, aimed at minimizing the harm to its operational functionality,” the military said in a statement cited by N12. “We will not address specific cases in the unit but emphasize that there is no impairment to the unit’s functionality.”

The IDF’s instructions came as the government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to decide on possible stricter measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

The measures could include transitioning staff at workplaces deemed non-essential to work from home, further limiting public gatherings and movement and shutting down malls and other places, and suspending public transport systems, and possibly shuttering kindergartens and private daycares in addition to the schools and universities which were ordered closed for at least the next month.

A senior minister told the Ynet news site earlier Saturday that currently, “the inclination is a slowdown of the economy, not a shutdown.”

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