Another Israeli succumbs to COVID-19 * Despite suspicion, Netanyahu tests negative for coronavirus.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he delivers a speech at his Jerusalem office, regarding the new measures that will be taken to fight the coronavirus, March 14, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/GALI TIBBON/POOL)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he delivers a speech at his Jerusalem office, regarding the new measures that will be taken to fight the coronavirus, March 14, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/GALI TIBBON/POOL)


The Israeli public is being asked to celebrate Passover, Easter and Ramadan alone, without their extended families and friends, to help stop the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rolled out a new set of restrictions Monday evening. They were set to be approved by the cabinet overnight.

The new state-of-emergency orders, which will continue to be subject to fines, include that no more than two people from the same family may gather; offices must reduce their in-house workforces to 15% and ensure that workers maintain two meters between themselves; up to 20 people can attend a funeral; up to 10 people can attend a brit milah circumcision ceremony; weddings can have no guests; prayer services cannot take place even in open spaces; people are asked to pray alone.

Netanyahu also referred to the approaching Passover holiday, saying he “wants to avoid family visits on the eve of the holiday. The goal is not to meet people who have been elsewhere, because this is how the disease spreads. You must give up the visit with the son from the North who comes to see the family in the Center or in the South, give up the encounter with the daughter and grandchildren. There is no choice.

“What I said now is also true of the holidays of non-Jewish communities,” he said, referring to the upcoming holidays of Easter and Ramadan. “We bless everyone with good holidays, but we will also require them to follow the same guidelines because it saves lives.”

“In our battle against coronavirus, we will not spare any effort,” he added. “As I have told you from the beginning, it is better to be more stringent than not. Many countries have followed us in this policy.”

Netanyahu spoke from his Jerusalem residence on Balfour Street, where he is in isolation, although he, his staff and family tested negative for the coronavirus on Monday despite coming into limited contact with his parliamentary adviser, Rivka Paluch, who contracted the virus.

Netanyahu did not spend enough time with Paluch to warrant self-quarantine, Knesset cameras indicated on Monday.

Nevertheless, he and his staff temporarily isolated themselves until the end of an epidemiological study that is expected to reveal he was not exposed to the coronavirus. He said at the press conference he did so voluntarily to set an example for the public.

Health Ministry professionals were conducting a thorough study to determine what needs to be done next, the Prime Minister’s Office said. The first indications of the study showed there was no need for Netanyahu to enter quarantine because he did not meet with Paluch and did not come into close contact with her; they have not been in the same room over the past two weeks.

Netanyahu, in coordination with his personal doctor, has been strictly maintaining health restrictions and is conducting most of his work from his home and most of his consultations by video.

Paluch told The Jerusalem Post while she did go to the Knesset on Thursday to prepare Netanyahu for the vote for Knesset speaker, she did not have any real contact with him.

The new restrictions come as Israel’s death toll climbed to 16 on Monday when a 58-year-old man with underlying medical conditions died at Shamir Medical Center in Tzrifin and as Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov warned there likely will be more than 150 coronavirus patients in serious condition by the weekend.

“I don’t see a model in which we end this situation with a small number of intubated patients or deaths,” Bar Siman Tov told Israel Radio.

A total of 4,695 Israelis have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus to date, including 79 people in serious condition. Among them is a man in his 20s who was hospitalized at Assuta Ashdod Medical Center and 66 patients who require ventilation.

Among the 161 patients who have recovered from the virus thus far is Israel’s first critically ill patient, an Arab-Israeli bus driver who contracted the virus from Greek pilgrims. He was released from the Baruch Padeh Medical Center in Poriya (near Tiberias) on Monday.

Despite testing nearly 6,000 people on Sunday, Bar Siman Tov said the tests were only giving authorities a “very partial picture” of the real situation.

“The fact that at least half of all patients are asymptomatic makes the disease problematic,” he said. “In addition, each test has a false negative rate.”

While the end of the Passover holiday in mid-April has been slated as a potential trigger for the gradual return of business and educational activities, Bar Siman Tov forecast that schools will remain closed and that “most things will not be renewed.”

Seeking to boost the number of coronavirus tests toward the government’s ambitious target of 30,000 per day, to gain a clearer picture of the state of public health, Magen David Adom opened a new “drive-through” coronavirus testing complex in the Arab town of Arara, located in the northern Wadi Ara region.

Following a request from Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, MDA director-general Eli Bin and Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi announced the launch of a dedicated coronavirus assistance center for the Israeli-Arab sector, where services will be provided in Arabic and adapted to the needs of the population.

On the security front, the IDF announced it will postpone the enlistment of several combat support units due to the continued spread of the virus.

While the upcoming drafts this week will not be postponed, the IDF will be delaying the recruitment of several combat support units, as well as those drafting into the submarine and naval officer’s course, IDF Spokesman Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman told reporters Monday.

Another 62 soldiers have been diagnosed with the virus and transferred to the military’s quarantine facility in Ashkelon. An additional 2,879 soldiers are in quarantine, and one soldier has recovered.

On Tuesday, soldiers will begin distributing food and other necessities to the country’s elderly and others who are unable to make the purchases themselves due to the restrictions. The military will work with local governments to identify those who need assistance and will begin delivering the products.

As part of an agreement between the Prime Minister’s Office and the Defense Ministry, one commander and four soldiers will be assigned to each person requiring assistance.

The IDF has not yet deployed troops to assist in enforcing the partial lockdown but is waiting for Netanyahu to give the final approval on several details, including whether they will be armed, Zilberman told reporters.

The military’s large medical corps, which is prepared for emergency situations like terrorist attacks, now has to fight against the virus and work with the Health Ministry to help with the logistics, including moving equipment such as masks and respirators from the airport to health centers across the country, OC Technological and Logistics Directorate Maj.-Gen. Yitzhak Turgeman said.

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett acknowledged reports that the Defense Ministry has been working with the IDF 8200 Intelligence Unit and spyware firm NSO to develop software that would enter and process all data about coronavirus patients gathered by the Health Ministry and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).

The system would map the spread of the virus through tracking the patient’s mobile-device data and then determine how likely any Israeli citizen is to become infected, giving both a macro- and micro-image of the coronavirus epidemic in Israel.

“We are in a time of emergency, and this is an excellent system,” Bennett said, adding that the prime minister must approve the “Coronameter” system before it can be used.

On Monday, acting Justice Minister Amir Ohana approved emergency rules allowing litigants to file legal motions with the court electronically without having to file physical copies.

Although some other countries switched to significant electronic filings long before the coronavirus crisis, and Israel has made strides in that direction in recent years, Ohana’s new emergency rules mark a major shift in the legal culture.

As reported by The Jerusalem Post