Netanyahu weighs new, stricter measures to halt coronavirus pandemic
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Health Ministry said pushing for complete shutdown

Netanyahu weighs new, stricter measures to halt coronavirus pandemic

Senior minister says ‘inclination is for a slowdown, not a shutdown’; public transport, all education programs may be suspended

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Health minister Yaakov Litzman and National Security Adviser and NSC Director Meir Ben-Shabbat hold a video conference with European Leaders in order to discuss challenges and cooperation between the countries in dealing with the coronavirus COVID-19, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, on March 9, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Health minister Yaakov Litzman and National Security Adviser and NSC Director Meir Ben-Shabbat hold a video conference with European Leaders in order to discuss challenges and cooperation between the countries in dealing with the coronavirus COVID-19, at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, on March 9, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a meeting at his office in Jerusalem late on Saturday afternoon to discuss further, more stringent measures Israel may take to halt the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Channel 12 news the government was set to announce a five-week partial shutdown of the economy.

Supermarkets will remain open, but malls, coffee shops and restaurants will close. Non-essential workplaces will switch to working from home, according to the report.

The network said the measures will not amount to a lockdown of citizens, but are aimed at minimizing the number of people in the same place as much as possible to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The purpose of the expected move is to “dilute” workplaces; if during these five weeks things the situation improves, some of the restrictions will be lifted.

Kindergartens and private daycares were also expected to be shut down 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 that, currently, “the inclination is a slowdown of the economy, not a shutdown.”

Officials were said to be working to determine how many Israeli workers would be classified as non-essential, according to Ynet.

Workers wearing protective suits prepare to disinfect a bus as a preventive measure amid fears over the spread of the coronavirus, in Tel Aviv on March 9, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

According to an unsourced report (in Hebrew) by Channel 12 news, the Health Ministry is looking to include a directive where no more than two people would be in a room together to limit contact, as well as a complete suspension of the public transport system and the education system.

Director-generals from the relevant ministries were said to have held marathon talks overnight Friday-Saturday at the Finance Ministry’s headquarters in Jerusalem to run through scenarios where there is a complete shutdown with only essential services running. The discussions were centered around working out certain details such as how IDF soldiers were to get to their bases and whether to shutter boarding schools which were not included in the directive from Thursday evening ordering the shutdown of schools from the first grade through high school, as well as universities.

A closed school in the northern Israeli city of Tzfat, March 13, 2020, as part of preventive measures amid fears over the spread of the coronavirus. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel climbed to 164 as of early Saturday afternoon, up 21 from Friday, with nearly 40,000 currently in home quarantines, according to the Israeli Health Ministry. Of those with the virus, two are still in serious condition, 10 are in moderate condition, and four have recovered.

Israel has seen no deaths from the virus.

Of the 164 confirmed cases, 124 people have been hospitalized with 27 receiving medical care at home. Some 38,000 are in self-quarantine, including nearly 1,000 doctors, more than 600 nurses, 170 paramedics, and 80 pharmacists, according to Health Ministry figures.

The country has taken a number of far-reaching measures to contain and fight the virus, but has so far stopped short of steps such as banning all non-essential domestic travel or ordering the closure of most businesses.

Any public gatherings of over 100 people have been banned as of Wednesday, leading to the cancellation of sports games and numerous other events, as well as the closure of theaters and many hotels. That order, which went into effect Thursday, applies to weddings, bar mitzvahs and funerals, and covers “both closed and open spaces,” according to the Health Ministry.

The regulation has also impacted religious life, with Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef on Thursday calling on Israelis to avoid large prayer gatherings at the Western Wall and saying Health Ministry directives should be treated as Jewish law “for all intents and purposes.”

Police announced Friday they were carrying out hundreds of inspections to ensure compliance with the ban on gatherings of over 100 people.

Netanyahu has urged Israelis to “keep your distance” from each other — citing a one-meter minimum, and a preferred two meters. “Tens of thousands” of Israeli lives are at stake, he said, and intimated that tens of millions could die worldwide if the virus is not thwarted.

Earlier in the week, the government announced an emergency package of more than NIS 10 billion ($2.8 billion) to stabilize the economy and offset some damage caused by the coronavirus crisis.

“The coronavirus has a heavy economic impact on the global market, and on our own,” Netanyahu said on Wednesday when the fund was announced. “The state of the Israeli economy is better than most world economies. The financial system is strong and unemployment is low. These are big advantages in entering this crisis. This is a challenge we believe we can manage, in order to eventually traverse it safely,” he added.

To curb the spread of the virus in the country, all Israelis returning from overseas are required to quarantine at home for 14 days. Non-Israeli nationals were barred from entering the country as of March 12, unless they can demonstrate an ability to self-quarantine for two weeks.

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