Measures to limit movement come into effect, as number of sick rises to 705
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Coronavirus crisis

Measures to limit movement come into effect, as number of sick rises to 705

After cabinet approval, Israelis legally required to remain at home unless for necessary tasks; drive-through testing site opens in Tel Aviv; condition of three people very serious

A picture taken on March 20, 2020 shows an empty road in Jerusalem, after Israel banned non-essential movement and ordered the closure of all leisure and entertainment venues in a bid to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
A picture taken on March 20, 2020 shows an empty road in Jerusalem, after Israel banned non-essential movement and ordered the closure of all leisure and entertainment venues in a bid to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

New emergency regulations legalizing tough restrictions on movement to battle the spread of coronavirus in Israel came into effect Friday, after receiving cabinet approval overnight.

Ministers unanimously approved the measures, which made the limitations on movement announced earlier in the week legally binding and enforceable.

The restrictions dictate that Israelis should stay at home at all times unless for purposes of essential work, stocking up on food, medical issues or a limited number of permitted activities.

The number of confirmed sick in Israel stood at 705 on Friday morning. Ten were in serious condition and 18 in moderate condition.

An elderly woman in Jerusalem was in critical condition, while an elderly man and woman in central Israel were in very serious condition. Several other patients were in serious condition, sedated and on respirators. The vast majority of patients were experiencing mild symptoms only.

Workers prepare a new ward at the Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, for people infected with the Coronavirus, March 19, 2020. (Flash90)

Meanwhile medical officials said the condition of a 38-year-old East Jerusalem bus driver who was Israel’s first COVID-19 patient in serious condition had improved and he was now only displaying mild symptoms.

Worldwide, the death toll surpassed 10,000 and infections topped 240,000, including 86,000 people who have recovered, according to tallies early Friday.

Israeli officials have warned recently that the country would likely see its first deaths and that cases of illness will climb into the thousands soon.

Read: Coronavirus in Israel — all you need to know

After a delay of several days, a new drive-through facility opened in Tel Aviv Friday for Israelis to receive on the spot testing for the coronavirus while they wait in their cars.

Magen David Adom staff wear protective clothing at a drive-through site to collect samples for coronavirus testing in Tel Aviv, March 20, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The facility, run by the Magen David Adom ambulance service, is at the Expo Tel Aviv compound, and is open only to those with specific doctors’ referrals. If the pilot testing project proves successful, additional facilities will be opened in other major cities.

In recent days, the Health Ministry has boosted testing for the virus from some 500-700 tests a day to around 2,200 per day and officials have said the number of tests would increase to 3,000 per day by Sunday and 5,000 per day by the following week.

In announcing the new legally binding restrictions, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged that it was “a step unlike any since the founding of the State of Israel” but added that the nation had “never faced anything like the coronavirus.”

The steps taken so far have slowed the spread of the virus, “but the pandemic continues to spread,” the prime minister continued. “In Israel… the numbers of those who are sick is growing daily. Nobody has died, but that unfortunately is not likely to continue…there are likely to be many victims.”

A child watches as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a live press conference on the new government restrictions for the public regarding the coronavirus on March 19, 2020 (Chen Leopold/Flash90)

There was no immediate information on what the punishments would be for violators of the Health Ministry directives, which were originally announced Tuesday.

Israel has already ordered all leisure and recreation sites closed, along with schools, universities and kindergartens. Many places of work have also been instructed to have employees work from home where possible, or put them on leave. The country has also sealed its borders to all foreigners.

Public transportation was set to further reduce services in the coming days. Starting Monday, intracity bus lines across Israel will only run twice an hour, while bus companies will decide whether intercity lines will operate twice or three times an hour. Passenger train services will be reduced by 50 percent.

Currently public transportation across Israel stops at 8 p.m. each evening, before resuming the next morning. It will also no longer operate on weekends, stopping at 8 p.m. Thursday and beginning again Sunday morning.

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