Rivlin: 'This is a real danger'

Officials fume as Israelis ignore rules, crowding beaches, stores and IDF bases

Stay home, one official pleads; we only have narrow window left to rein in virus, warns another; stay away from grandparents, Bennett tells ‘ticking bomb’ youngsters

Israelis enjoy the beach in Tel Aviv, March 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Israelis enjoy the beach in Tel Aviv, March 16, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Israelis are not taking the coronavirus seriously enough and if they fail to do so Israel could lose control of the spread of the virus, senior Health Ministry officials have warned.

“If we interact a lot with other people, we’ll spread the virus. We have a narrow window [to stop the virus spread]… but it can close in two or three days. Italy, South Korea and China lost control in two or three days,” Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov warned late Monday night in an interview on Channel 12 TV.

“Stay at home; reduce your contact with the environment,” he continued. “Don’t go to the beach — we’ll have harmed the economy [by closing down workplaces] and we won’t have stopped the spread of the virus.”

Despite his dramatic warnings and despite the rapid spread of the virus in Israel, reports continued to flow on Tuesday of Israelis ignoring directives to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and for people to keep a distance of at least two meters from one another.

Crowds of new conscripts and their families gather outside an induction center near Tel Aviv on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. (Ynet screenshot)

Television channels showed people going to the beach and crowds of shoppers at supermarkets, while the Hebrew language Ynet website showed pictures and video of new conscripts and their families gathering outside an induction center near Tel Aviv on Tuesday. The IDF had banned families from entering the induction center due to Health Ministry restrictions.

Bar Siman-Tov’s deputy, Itamar Grotto, called on people not to leave their homes unless absolutely necessary.

“People have not internalized the gravity of the situation,” Grotto told the Ynet news site. “People are still behaving as if it’s a holiday… just stay at home,” he said.

Grotto reiterated that the ministry wanted to see an almost complete lockdown of the country, but the treasury continued to object due to the financial implications.

“There is a real debate. I think we need to be stricter,” Grotto said. “With regard to the public sector most of our guidelines have been accepted, namely that only crucial employees should show up to work. But with regard to the private sector we are not there yet. Too many people are leaving their homes.”

People play ball at the beach front in Tel Aviv, March 16, despite a ban restricting gatherings to no more than 10 people due to the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, speaking in Tel Aviv, where a hotel has been turned into an isolation center for coronavirus patients with mild symptoms, warned that people needed to heed guidelines and stay away from the elderly.

“Fatality rates among the young are very low, but one in five grandparents hugged by their children — who don’t know they are carrying the virus — will die,” Bennett said.

“Make videos and send them to grandma and grandpa, but don’t go and see them. You are a ticking bomb,” he added.

President Reuven Rivlin also issued an urgent plea to Israeli citizens.

“Dear citizens, the restrictions do not mean holidays! I request of you all to take very good care of yourselves!” he said in a statement. “I know very what that being closed up at home is not at all easy. I understand that the children need open spaces and that you parents also need some breathing room. But, nevertheless, we must not turn these days into leisure days, I hear that our beaches and hiking trails are bursting. The danger is real! Let me ask you again to follow the instructions of regarding distancing, and to keep away from gatherings. This is a real danger.”

Rivlin added, “My dear ones, at this difficult time when the special excitement of preparing for Pesach gives way to fear and anxiety, I send you my best wishes and prayers for the welfare and good health of all Israelis. If we follow the instructions, they will keep us safe. Patience and deep breaths – this is our spirit, and if we keep it up, it will keep us strong.”

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