Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to exempt Israel from an export ban on protective masks and the raw materials used to make medicines, Israeli television reported Friday.
In a televised statement Wednesday to announce new measures to contain the coronavirus, Netanyahu said he spoke by phone with Modi.
“We also depend on supply lines and we are working with other countries. We are in contact with them all the time,” he said at the time, without elaborating.
Citing three unnamed Israeli officials, Channel 13 said Netanyahu asked Modi to lift the export bans on these items, which were imposed several weeks ago, as Israel imports most of the raw materials it needs for medicines from India.
Itamar Grotto, deputy director-general of the Health Ministry, said during the broadcast that Modi agreed to allow the export of materials for medicines to Israel, but there was no decision yet on the masks.
“Special permission was given and the drug procurement is being carried out now. The Indians agreed to exempt Israel,” Grotto said.
According to the report, the Health Ministry requested the Israeli embassy in New Delhi to ask Indian officials to allow hundreds of thousands of protective masks to be sent to Israel, due to a shortage in the country.
The officials quoted in the report said talks on the matter between Israel and India were ongoing.
India, with its 1.3 billion population and proximity to China, has so far come through the global virus crisis relatively unscathed, with 81 reported cases and two deaths.
However, the number marks a steep increase from only about 30 on Sunday, prompting growing concern.
On Thursday, Channel 13 reported that the Foreign Ministry asked multiple countries in Europe and Asia to allow protective masks to be sent to Israel, as many nations seek to ensure supplies for their own domestic needs.
The network said there was a shortage of masks in the country, raising fears that doctors and medical officials treating coronavirus patients could contract the virus if they do not have proper medical equipment.
There have also been concerns expressed over Israel’s ability to test for the coronavirus. Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said Thursday his ministry was aiming to greatly expand the number of Israelis tested every day for COVID-19, from the current 600 to 2,000 and more.
As of Friday, there have been 143 confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel, with three people in serious condition. There have not been any deaths from the virus.
Israel has taken a number of stringent measures to curb the spread of the virus, including banning public gatherings of over 100 people and closing schools and universities, with even stricter measures soon likely.
AFP contributed to this report.