PM: Cough into a tissue; don't hug, kiss, shake hands

As virus cases mount, Israel bans gatherings of more than 100 people

Netanyahu says COVID-19 ‘global plague,’ tells Israelis to change daily routines; ban applies to weddings, synagogues; universities may need to teach remotely; 82 cases confirmed

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces new restrictions to combat the COVID-19 coronavirus during a press conference at his office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2020. (Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces new restrictions to combat the COVID-19 coronavirus during a press conference at his office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2020. (Flash90)

Israel is limiting public events in enclosed areas to 100 people as part of increasingly strict measures to curb the spread of the new coronavirus in the country, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Wednesday evening.

The ban includes synagogue prayer and weddings, the Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov elaborated. Schools are staying open for now, but officials may require institutes of higher education to teach remotely.

“We’re asking, if there is no need for conferences, if there is no need for events, don’t hold them and don’t go to them,” Netanyahu said during a press conference at his office.

He said exceptions would be made for security, health and public needs, while urging Israelis to make “behavioral changes” and change their “day-to-day routines.”

“We like to hug, shake hands, kiss — don’t do it,” he said. “Wash your hands. Maintain good personal hygiene.”

Customers wear protective masks while they shop at an outdoor market in Bangkok, Thailand on March 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

“We’re in a pandemic — a global plague,” he added. “Cough into a tissue,” he urged. “You don’t need masks.”

Netanyahu touted the restrictions Israel has introduced until now, saying they better positioned the Jewish state to deal with the virus than other countries which had not ordered such strictures. “In Israel our situation is better than in many states,” the premier said.

Bar Siman-Tov, who also spoke at the press conference, said higher education institutes could hold classes online, with students studying from home, but this was not yet a formal requirement.

He said Israel was not currently considering shuttering schools and that public transportation was operating as usual.

The front seats of a Jerusalem public bus are blocked off on March 10, 2020, as part of preventive measures amid fears over the spread of a new coronavirus. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israel was also not ordering workplaces to close, but where it was possible to work from home, employees should do so, he said.

Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israelis with a fever or respiratory symptoms should self-quarantine, and, once their temperatures return to normal, wait a further 48 hours before going back out, Bar Siman-Tov added.

Israel’s first priority in fighting the virus had been to close its borders to people bringing it in, he said, and this had now been done with a blanket requirement for 14-days self-quarantine for all arrivals. Now, he went on, the imperative was to quickly identify those who are infected and prevent the spread of the virus.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman announces new restrictions to combat the COVID-19 coronavirus during a press conference at his office in Jerusalem on March 11, 2020. (Flash90)

Noting elderly people faced greater health risks from COVID-19, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said Israelis should avoid visiting acquaintances at hospitals.

“[We] need to respect the senior public and see how we can extend their years,” he said at the press conference.

The Health Ministry on Tuesday introduced limitations for hospital and retirement home visits to reduce the risk to vulnerable populations like the sick and elderly,

The new restrictions were announced as the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic.

There have so far been 82 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Israel, many of them contracted by travelers who recently returned from abroad. There were 12 new confirmed cases in the country Wednesday.

Worldwide, there have been over 118,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and nearly 4,300 deaths.

Prior to the new restrictions, public gatherings in Israel had been limited to 2,000 people, including for religious events.

To curb the spread of the virus in the country, all Israelis returning from overseas are required to quarantine at home for 14 days. Non-Israeli nationals will be allowed into the country until Thursday at 8 p.m., but after that they will be barred entry unless they can demonstrate an ability to self-quarantine for two weeks.

The nearly empty arrivals hall at Ben Gurion International Airport on March 11, 2020. (Flash90)

The quarantine measures are among the most dramatic to be introduced by any nation in the intensifying battle against the coronavirus. On February 26, Israel had become the first country in the world to advise its citizens against all non-essential overseas travel.

Netanyahu said that younger people were evidently not in great danger from the virus, but older people are. “If you get sick and you’re in your 20s or 30s,” he says, “you’ll get better.

“But if we can’t prevent the spread, we’ll infect the older people — and they’re in much greater danger… I’m talking about their lives… We have to look after dad and grandpa and grandma.”

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