Netanyahu: Full lockdown possible within days if virus spread doesn’t slow

‘You stay home, you stay alive,’ PM says at press conference, hours after rules on movement tightened; concedes he doesn’t know when it will end

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference about the coronavirus outbreak, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on March 25, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference about the coronavirus outbreak, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on March 25, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Wednesday that a full closure of the country could be introduced within days to curb the coronavirus pandemic, hours after further restrictions on Israelis’ movement were put into effect.

“The number of those infected doubles every three days,” he said. At that rate, “in two weeks we’ll have thousands — many of them in life threatening condition.”

“If we don’t see an immediate improvement in the trend, we will have no choice but to declare a full closure,” except for purchases of food and medicine, Netanyahu said in an address from his office in Jerusalem.

“It’s a matter of days [away],” he added, saying preparations for such a scenario were already underway.

Citing the climbing death tolls in Italy and Spain, which have dwarfed those in China, and noting that the number of infections in Israel was doubling every three days, the prime minister again implored Israelis to heed the rules and stay indoors.

“You must stay home. You stay home, you stay alive,” he said. “If you don’t protect your families,” he said, “there’ll be a disaster here.”

Even within their homes, added the prime minister, people should keep a distance from one another and wash their hands. “I know that with little children it’s hard to stay home, but there’s no choice,” he said.

Police patrol on the Tel Aviv beach boardwalk on March 25, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

He said Israel was working hard to obtain additional medical equipment amid “wild and cruel” global competition for the items, including test kits.

The prime minister said the government would soon unveil bailout measures for businesses and freelancers. “We will help you, we will take care of you. We have a strong economy, we have means,” he stressed.

While stressing that no one knows when the pandemic — which he placed alongside the bubonic plague, cholera and the 1918 Spanish flu — will end, Netanyahu said the government has already set up a task force that will deal with resuming economic activity in the country.

As in previous press conferences, he also reiterated his call to Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz to immediately form an emergency unity government to combat the virus, but did not acknowledge the ongoing constitutional crisis sparked by Likud MK and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.

A woman wearing a mask to protect her from being infected by the Coronavirus in Jerusalem, on March 25, 2020. (Nati Shohat/FLASH90)

“We survived Pharaoh… we will also survive the coronavirus,” Netanyahu said at the end of his remarks, alluding to the upcoming Passover holiday.

Speaking after Netanyahu, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat also emphasized the government is in the dark on how long the crisis will last, adding: “We can assume it won’t be short.”

“But — and it’s a big but — it depends on us, not only on us, but also on us,” he said, urging Israelis to follow the rules.

Ben-Shabbat said the government will not know the effects of its current measures for another two weeks and in the interim will be forced to make additional difficult decisions.

National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat speaks during a press conference about the coronavirus outbreak, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 25, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The new regulations announced earlier, which are aimed at keeping Israelis inside their homes as much as possible, went into effect at 5 p.m. Wednesday. Israelis are meant to stay inside unless they are going to an approved job, purchasing food or medicine, or taking part in a small number of specific other activities approved by the government. Synagogues were closed, public transportation was scaled back to 25 percent, but restaurant delivery services were permitted to continue.

Netanyahu acknowledged the new regulations could be confusing — “there are lots of paradoxes,” he said, “but read them, and stay home.”

While no details were provided, the threatened full lockdown could see people forbidden from leaving their homes at all except in special cases, only supermarkets and pharmacies remaining open, with only one family member permitted to travel, and all public transportation canceled.

Israel has seen five fatalities from the disease. The Health Ministry said Wednesday night that 2,369 people have been infected, 39 of whom are in serious condition.

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