Virus cases hit 127 as synagogues curb prayer; schools, hotels and theaters shut
One carrier is an IDF officer who visited army HQ

Virus cases hit 127 as synagogues curb prayer; schools, hotels and theaters shut

18 new patients diagnosed as public life slows to a near-standstill amid fears of contagion; despite decision to keep preschools open, hundreds of teachers said to ditch work

Jewish ultra-Orthodox girls wear face masks during celebrations of the Jewish festival of Purim in Bnei Brak, Israel, March 10, 2020 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
Jewish ultra-Orthodox girls wear face masks during celebrations of the Jewish festival of Purim in Bnei Brak, Israel, March 10, 2020 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel rose to 127 Friday afternoon– an addition of 18 new patients — as much of the country shut down and public life was severely curbed by the spread of the dangerous pathogen.

Two patients are in serious condition and five are defined as moderate, the ministry said. Among those who have tested positive for the virus is a six-month-old baby.

The military said that one of these 127 patients — number 95 — was an Israel Defense Forces officer who had visited the military’s Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv on March 1. Servicememebers who may have interacted with him in the Kirya’s Kaveret store from 1:30 p.m. to 1:50 p.m. were instructed to go into quarantine.

The mounting cases have led ministry officials to estimate that thousands of Israelis could already be infected without being diagnosed.

Synagogues throughout Israel were expected to limit attendance to 100 people over the Sabbath, as per Health Ministry instructions, with some splitting up worshipers to several locations to avoid crowding. Shuls with cramped spaces were expected to further limit attendance to prevent close contact between congregants. People at higher risk were instructed to pray at home.

Israel’s chief rabbis cautioned religious Jews to avoid visiting the Western Wall .

The nation’s schools and universities were also closed as of Friday morning until further notice, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the public to “refrain as much as possible from gatherings in general.”

Though preschools and kindergartens had been set to open, Haaretz reported that hundreds of teachers in those institutions had called in sick, in an apparent protest at the decision not to keep them shut as well.

The Education Ministry asserted, however, that 85 percent of preschools had opened as usual.

Theaters in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and around the country shut their doors for the foreseeable future amid a ban on gatherings of 100 people or more went into effect.

On Friday the Culture and Sports Ministry announced that all sporting events in the country would be stopped until further notice.

Across the world, authorities have canceled sporting events, theater productions, TV show tapings, concerts and anything that draws a crowd in a frantic effort to keep the virus from spreading in places where people congregate.

In Tel Aviv, the Habima and Cameri theaters closed their doors to comply with the ban on gatherings. It was the first time in Habima’s 103-year history that it was closed, according to Channel 12 news. The Jerusalem Theater also announced it would be closing.

The Cameri Theatre (Photo credit: Moshe Shai/Flash90)
The Cameri Theatre (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

New Health Ministry directives announced Wednesday urged organizers to cancel events and put a strict cap of 100 people on any event that does go ahead. The order, which went into effect Thursday, applies to weddings, bar mitzvahs and funerals, and covers “both closed and open spaces,” according to the Health Ministry.

The closures are just the latest blow wrought by a series of measures that have seen public life in Israel and around the world contract significantly in the hopes of cutting down meetings between people and chances for the virus to spread.

The travel industry is continuing to reel from a near-all encompassing ban on incoming tourists. Some 100 hotels throughout Israel were closing to visitors, according to Hebrew media reports Thursday. Another 100 hotels were expected to close on Sunday, according to the reports.

Passengers wear masks at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, March 10, 2020 (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

On Thursday, Netanyahu called the pandemic “a global event unlike anything” the country had seen. He warned that “the potential number of deaths is very high and we must take action to prevent that.”

He said Israel’s efforts were focused on slowing the spread of the virus so that it doesn’t cause masses of ill people to require medical attention at the same time and overwhelm the health care system.

He called on his political rival, the Blue and White party headed by Benny Gantz, to join him and immediately form a temporary emergency government following a year-long political deadlock. Gantz has indicated a willingness to do so, though the terms of such a government were not immediately clear.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said 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.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 12, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

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

Worldwide, there have been over 125,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and over 4,600 deaths.

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 were barred from entering the country as of Thursday at 8 p.m., unless they can demonstrate an ability to self-quarantine for two weeks.

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.

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