Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday reprimanded Israelis for failing to grasp the gravity of the growing coronavirus crisis, urging them to stay home wherever possible, as top health officials said thousands could die of the disease if the public did not strictly adhere to government guidelines.
“This isn’t child’s play, it’s not summer vacation, it’s a matter of life and death,” Netanyahu said at an evening press conference after media outlets reported extensively over the past two days on now jobless Israelis making use of their freed up time to enjoy the beach and public parks.
Charging that “too many” were failing to grasp the gravity of the situation, he urged Israelis to show “discipline and responsibility” in following social distancing instructions, avoiding public spaces and, whenever possible, staying home.
“If you don’t have to go to work, stay home. I assume you know the English expression ‘My home is my castle.’ Please adopt that. Your home is your castle in defense against the coronavirus pandemic…stay home.”
Fully five weeks after the first confirmed COVID-19 infection in Israel, no Israelis have yet died of the coronavirus — but both Netanyahu and the Health Ministry’s director-general said this would soon change.
“We assess that scenarios like in Italy and Spain can happen here too,” Moshe Bar Siman-Tov said. “In the coming days… the rate of new cases will rise — to 100 a day or more. We may come to a situation of hundreds more [cases] each day,” he said.
In the end, he said, “people will die — possibly even in the next few days.”
“To our sorrow, in our scenarios, many thousands [of Israelis] could die.” Thus the goal of Israel’s measures was to keep that number down by minimizing contagion, said Bar Siman-Tov.
The comments came as the Health Ministry announced on Tuesday evening that the number of confirmed infections in the country had reached 377, up from 304 in the morning — and as the global death toll passed 7,800.
“If we follow all the instructions, we will flatten the curve,” Bar Siman-Tov added. “There will still be those who die, and more who get sick, but we’ll manage to reach everyone,” he said.
He also called on Israelis not to visit their elderly parents or grandparents, who are at greater risk from the virus, and said those who feel unwell must stay home.
He, too urged, Israelis to take the ministry’s social distancing instructions seriously. “This isn’t a vacation given to you by the coronavirus. Our ability to reduce the numbers of sick depends on your behavior. We’d rather you followed our instructions. If necessary, we’ll enforce them,” he warned.
Netanyahu spoke of three new steps the government was taking to stem the spread of the contagion, including improving its ability to track those who might have been exposed to the virus using controversial “digital tracking” measures approved by the cabinet early Tuesday morning.
He said Israel would also significantly ramp up testing for the coronavirus to 3,000 tests per day, and ultimately a possible 5,000 tests a day — a figure that would make Israel number one in the world in tests per capita, he said.
And, he added, Israel’s hospitals had ordered an additional 1,000 respirators as they braced for an influx of patients.
“This is a huge crisis. We are only at the start of the campaign; the crux is yet before us,” said Netanyahu.”
The press conference came just hours after the Health Ministry announced sweeping new restrictions on movement meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
The public was instructed not to go out to parks, playgrounds, the beach, pools, libraries, museums or other public places, the ministry said. Exceptions were permissible for taking out children and pets — in accordance with instructions for maintaining hygiene and limiting social contact. Among other measures: suspension of elective surgeries, cancellation of non-urgent dental treatments, and the stipulation that home deliveries be left outside customers’ doors, to avoid meetings between customers and delivery drivers.
Channel 12 news called the new instructions a government bid for a “voluntary lockdown.”
“These aren’t simple instructions. We are asking you to minimize as much as possible leaving your home,” Bar Siman-Tov said Tuesday afternoon.
But, he said, “Anywhere you visit might have a sick person present who could infect you. You yourself may be sick and not know it, and infect other people.”