(March 15, 2020 / Israel Hayom) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday announced a partial shutdown of Israel’s economy with the aim of stemming the COVID-19 outbreak.
According to Israel’s Health Ministry, as of Sunday, there were 200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country, 157 of whom are hospitalized and two of whom are in serious condition. Two of the 200 are in serious condition, 11 are in moderate condition, 178 are in light condition and four have recovered and been sent home, according to the ministry.
Some 40,000 Israelis are currently under home quarantine, as are nearly 2,500 health-care workers, including some 950 doctors.
“This is a dynamic situation, so our policy is dynamic and meant to minimize morbidity,” Netanyahu said in a press conference on Saturday.
While Israel was faring relatively well against the outbreak so far, the public’s help was needed to keep a step ahead of the virus.
“Israel is doing much better than most countries around the world. But this is a developing situation; this disease keeps changing and we’re constantly trying to keep one step ahead of it. We can overcome it and defeat it but that requires all of us to change our daily routine so as to stop the spread of the disease. This is about saving lives,” said Netanyahu.
Earlier on Saturday, it was reported that the government had received the legal go-ahead to track coronavirus patients using their cellphones and other digital devices. Netanyahu acknowledged the reports and also the privacy concerns raised by the measure, but said that in this case, public health comes first.
Urging the public to adhere to the Health Ministry directive about hygiene and social distancing, Netanyahu explained that “we are fighting an invisible enemy and we have to do everything in our power to stop it.
“We will be using technological measures. We have received legal permission to track people using digital means … yes, this compromises privacy but we are fighting a war and public health comes first. It’s paramount,” he stressed.
Netanyahu also announced that public gatherings exceeding 10 people were now barred, essentially shuttering all leisure venues, such as cafes, restaurants, theaters, cinemas and retails stores.
He stressed, however, that all essential services will continue operating, as will banks, ATMs, gas stations, health-care services and pharmacies.
“There will not be a shortage of food or medicines,” he said, following a day during which Israelis stormed supermarkets, despite multiple government officials announcing that it was not necessary to do so.
Public transportation will also be restricted, the prime minister said, adding that implementation of the move was still under review.
As part of the extensive restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of the pandemic, all educational institutions—from day-care centers to universities—would be closed beginning on Sunday, said Netanyahu. He further urges all non-essential private sector companies to let employees work from home.
The measures announced on Saturday are expected to remain in force for at least five weeks. The partial shutdown is expected to cost the economy about NIS 2 billion ($545 million) a week, Channel 12 News reported.
The decision to shutter the economy, perhaps prior to declaring a state of national emergency, followed extensive discussions with the Finance Ministry. Channel 12 News quoted Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon as saying that while shuttering the economy was obviously necessary, reviving it may prove impossible.
Meanwhile, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein said that Monday’s swearing-in of the new parliament will go ahead as scheduled.
“The importance of parliamentary oversight during a period of crisis is not in doubt,” he said in a statement.
On Thursday, it was decided that the 120 lawmakers will be sworn in in three separate batches of 40, so as to comply with Health Ministry guidelines limiting gatherings to 100 people. It is unclear at this time whether this will change given the new directive limiting public gatherings to under 10.
This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Israel Hayom.
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