39 Israelis diagnosed with coronavirus. Health Ministry clarifies that all Israelis who attended AIPAC and returned after March 5 must enter home-isolation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the press about the coronavirus outbreak, March 8, 2020 (photo credit: GPO/KOBI GIDEON)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the press about the coronavirus outbreak, March 8, 2020 (photo credit: GPO/KOBI GIDEON)


As 39 Israelis were diagnosed with coronavirus Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the country is considering requiring a mandatory14-day quarantine for all travelers entering the country.

“We have come to the conclusion that if we take further steps, they will actually need to apply to all states,” Netanyahu said during a briefing Sunday at the Prime Minister’s Office. “It is pointless to do this in a small way.”

The prime minister said that while he had no new policy to announce on Sunday, such a decision is expected to be announced on Monday afternoon and could include putting into isolation travelers from additional Western nations, including certain American states, such as Washington, California and New York.

“We take action as we understand it to be necessary,” the prime minister confirmed, “and everyone accepts it, obviously the United States, too… On the other hand, this decision is a very difficult decision, the same was true last night and today and will be true the next day.”

During the briefing, Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov clarified the quarantine requirements for Israelis who attended the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference in Washington, DC, last week. Anyone who attended the event and returned before Thursday, March 5 does not require isolation, he said. However, anyone who returned after that date must enter home-quarantine effective immediately.

Three Americans who attended the AIPAC conference have been diagnosed with coronavirus.

Netanyahu said that he spoke to US Vice President Mike Pence and White House coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx on Sunday – “very impressive people” – and stressed the importance of continued “maximum cooperation in dealing with the virus” with the United States.

“We have agreed on technological cooperation to develop extensive and rapid screening methods as well as vaccines,” the prime minister said, adding that the emphasis is on trying to develop a home test, similar to that of a home pregnancy test or certain laryngeal exams.

“This will give us the ability to separate sick people from healthy people, not by 100% but by large rates,” he said, noting that it would also help ensure that Israelis who really need to be quarantined would stay there. “It’s both good for health and good for the economy.”

The prime minister said that a meeting is scheduled Monday between Israel’s senior technologists and relevant government staff with Birx’s professional team. In addition, he said that there would be a conference call later in the week with European leaders, and that he was in the process of coordinating a similar phone meeting between Middle Eastern regional leaders.

“We are not talking about closing our borders,” Netanyahu stressed. “As mentioned, this is not an easy decision, but health precedes all – it is about life itself.

“But health also guarantees the economy. It must be understood that in such a situation health guarantees the economy because you understand that if there is a very large outbreak of the disease, it is very difficult to sustain the economy,” he continued.

Within hours of the briefing’s conclusion, the Health Ministry announced more than a dozen new cases of coronavirus in Israel – patients 26 through 39.

Patient 26, from Haifa, recently visited Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands. He returned on March 3 and has since then been in home-isolation. According to the ministry, he is in stable condition.

Patient 27 is from Israel’s northern region. He returned from Vienna on March 3.

Patient 28 is a 60-year-old man from Jerusalem who was in contact with a coronavirus patient from France who was in the city last week. He has been in home-isolation since March 6.

Patient 29 is a 40-year-old man from central Israel who was already in quarantine when diagnosed. At press time, it was still unclear how he became infected.

Patients 30 through 39 included five people who returned from international travel in Italy, Spain, Austria or Belgium and five people who came in contact with known coronavirus patients.

During the briefing, Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman compared Israel to Switzerland, a country with a similarly sized population that has 270 cases of the virus in comparison to Israel’s 39, and reiterated that Israel is in a good position.

According to the Health Ministry, only around 20,000 Israeli are currently in isolation, despite contradictory reports that closer to 80,000 Israelis are living under home-quarantine.

Earlier in the day, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said he is considering declaring a state of national emergency.

Speaking at the opening of a new fire station in Jerusalem, Erdan said that he had spoken to police about the need to help enforce quarantines to help prevent the spread of the potentially lethal COVID-19 disease.

“I am considering the need to declare a “national emergency, which would give officials wider powers,” he said. “We are living in challenging times with the coronavirus and the long-standing and complex political situation. But Israeli citizens know that even in times like these, there are those whose job has always been and always will be to keep their lives safe and secure. This is something that is not dependent on government or politics.”

Litzman also stressed that although the ministry was accused by some of “exaggerating and making policies for political reasons,” the results of the policies are beginning to prove their validity.

He did say that he expects the number of coronavirus patients in Israel to grow, echoing comments made earlier in the day by Health Ministry director-general Prof. Itamar Grotto.

“We estimate that the number will reach thousands, possibly even tens of thousands of patients,” Grotto said in an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 on Sunday. “Unfortunately, the situation is unpreventable. Many of these patients will need to go to the hospital.”

However, he noted that between 80% and 90% of patients will have only mild symptoms.

“They will only need to stay in isolation until they recover,” he said. “They will not need any special treatment.”

Litzman noted that his ministry will consider additional measures to ensure the safety of Israel’s economy, too.

Bar Siman Tov noted that all decisions that would be made with an eye toward what is best for Israel and its citizens.

He assured the public that hospitals throughout the country are prepared to accept patients but that the goal is for coronavirus patients with minimal symptoms to be able to recover at home.

“We have people that have been working on this virus around the clock for seven weeks,” he said. “We are learning about the virus.”

Netanyahu added that he knows how hard it is to be in quarantine for 14 days and that the Health Ministry is looking into ways to maximize the ability for people in isolation to get fresh air without infecting others.

“Here, too, we will give detailed instructions, and you will hear more about that later,” the prime minister said.

Bar Siman Tov concluded, “When this is all over, I believe we will be able to look back and say that even though it was difficult, the Israeli system was among the best in the world at coping with the coronavirus.”

As reported by The Jerusalem Post