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Netanyahu on beating the virus: ‘We love to embrace, shake hands, kiss. No more’

Prime minister tells citizens they need to change their behavior to defeat global pandemic: ‘I am talking about your lives… Safeguard your grandfather and your grandmother’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, right, and Health Ministry General Manager Moshe Bar Siman-Tov at a press conference about the coronavirus at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, March 11, 2020. (Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, right, and Health Ministry General Manager Moshe Bar Siman-Tov at a press conference about the coronavirus at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, March 11, 2020. (Flash90)

The full text of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the nation on March 12, 2012, asking Israelis for “behavioral change” to help defeat the coronavirus pandemic. (Translated from the Hebrew by the Prime Minister’s Office.)

Good evening. Happy holiday, so we hope. But there is something that is casting a shadow over our joy and it is, of course, the global pandemic. It was defined as such this evening by the World Health Organization. It is a global pandemic. It is affecting almost every country. It is affecting them harshly, or more harshly, or sometimes more lightly. In Israel our situation is better than in most countries. We have taken measures that many countries have not. But the challenge is great. It is significant, for all countries – a health challenge, a challenge for life, an economic challenge and a very great international challenge.

I also spoke today with Dr. Deborah Birx, who is responsible for the war on the pandemic in the US. She praised our organization and she speaks with many countries. I also spoke with the Indian Prime Minister, my friend Narendra Modi. We also depend on supply lines and we are working with other countries. We are in contact with them all the time.

In order to deal with the economic challenge, we held a press conference [where we detailed our policies]. I will not repeat it. I consulted with the Finance Minister, the Governor of the Bank of Israel and others and we offered a NIS 10 billion aid package. First, we have given NIS 4 billion to businesses. We added another NIS 4 billion. That is NIS 8 billion. There is NIS 1 billion for the health system, which is being challenged and needs equipment and supplies, so that it does not have to limit itself in this matter, and another NIS 1 billion for special needs such as the police and other things that are important to us; I will not detail them all.

The Israeli economy is in a good situation, even very good, due to high growth, low unemployment, the debt-to-GDP ratio, which is another way of saying that we can pay our debts. The financial system and the banks are very strong and stable. Israel is entering this crisis in an excellent economic situation and these are the first steps that we have taken, economic first aid for those who have been adversely affected by the Corona. And if we need to, and we apparently will, will give more and we have the wherewithal to do so. This is the first issue.

Now I will get to the second issue, which perhaps is the first, and that is the issue of health. I have been in constant consultation with my friend, Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman, with the people of his ministry and, of course, with the National Security Adviser, because we need to integrate many systems on this issue. I think that it must be understood that this crisis is fundamentally different. It is fundamentally different from other crises. In other crises, be it a terrorist attack or even a war, we do everything to deal with an external threat and change domestic routines as little as possible. In this crisis, after having dealt with and closed the outer layer, or reduced it and tightened it greatly, the country’s outer layer, we are now compelled to change domestic routines in order to deal with this crisis regarding a virus that wants to attack us from outside.

I am asking you, citizens of Israel, to change your routines in order to deal with an external threat. In short, to change. It is not easy. It requires us to make many changes, such as some things that Israelis love to do. We love to embrace. We love to shake hands. We love to kiss. No more.

I have already specified certain changes that we need to make. First, to refrain from shaking hands, to wash hands. We will also issue directives about that again, repeatedly, to maintain personal hygiene. I would like you to also see the significance of putting a handkerchief or a tissue over the face. Please, see here is what happens when somebody sneezes. It transfers the disease, these droplets of saliva, and therefore, the easiest thing is to simply take a tissue. I carry tissues all the time. Do this: Sneeze or cough into a tissue. You do not need masks; this is enough. Do this and it will effect a very major change because we need to protect each other, and I will get to this shortly.

This is the first thing, to maintain hygiene, and to wash hands, and about shaking hands and using handkerchiefs, in order to avoid coughing or sneezing and spreading these droplets of saliva, and also when you touch your face, as much as possible. This is the first thing.

The second thing that we are doing today is a behavioral change. We are asking your help – to limit gatherings. We are asking: If there is no need for conferences or events, do not hold them and do not go to them. I am saying this as clearly as possible. We are in a global pandemic. I ask you, other countries that did not take the steps that we have taken are in a very difficult slide. We are safeguarding the country well but we need to effect behavioral changes so that we can continue to safeguard ourselves well and get through this crisis. Do not gather. We are artificially limiting this to closed places of over 100 people. There will be exceptions for security needs and other public needs, and for health and military needs and such, but for other issues as well. We will make exceptions. We will issue this in an orderly fashion. This is important. It must be understood that we are entering into a different discipline. And if you go to a place where there is a gathering, try not to crowd in. Do everything not to crowd in. And again – maintain hygiene.

We will announce what we are doing with the academic year. We are thinking about the academic year at the universities. We are considering a postponement. Regarding schools, there are other considerations stemming from the character of the disease and from the expectancy of the disease. We will discuss this. At the moment there is no change. I assume that the Director General of the Health Ministry will report on this. There are questions here about taking temperatures and diagnosing people in a comprehensive way to try and get things in time and other things that will come up here this evening, but the main thing is not to gather, maintain distance and maintain hygiene.

This requires change and sacrifice in the routines of each and every one of us. I am asking you to do this in order to safeguard your father, your grandfather and your grandmother

I call this public health but that is not correct. It is not a question of public health. It is not a question of whether someone here will catch the disease. If somebody catches the disease and he is 20 or 30 or a similar age, most likely nothing will happen to him. He will simply be a little sick, maybe, if he feels it at all, and he will be healthy. But our problem is that if we do not prevent the spread of the disease by this change of behavior, and other things that we have decided on, and they are hard decisions, we will infect older people, who are at much greater risk. And so we are talking here about maintaining life.

Therefore, when I talk about public health, I am talking about your lives, citizens of Israel. I am talking about the lives of your father and your grandfather. And I am enlisting the youth today to watch over older people. Therefore, this requires change and sacrifice in the routines of each and every one of us. I am asking you to do this in order to safeguard your father, your grandfather and your grandmother. I can tell you that it will be harder before it gets easier. This happens, this develops. But I believe that we can overcome this crisis. The fact is that we are functioning better than almost any other country in the world, and this is thanks to you, thanks to the policy that have enacted and thanks to the self-discipline that you – citizens of Israel – are showing.

With G-d’s help and the cooperation of all of us, we will overcome this crisis.”

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