TEL AVIV – Prime Minister Netanyahu on Monday said coronavirus, which saw its second confirmed case among Israelis, is not a good enough reason to postpone the national elections set to take place next week.
“The corona[virus] is a big challenge. From the first moment I decided to take abundant preparatory measures that are stricter than any other country in the world. I don’t see a reason at the moment to delay the elections,” he told Jerusalem Radio.
A second Israeli who returned to Israel on Friday from a cruise ship has tested positive for the virus and is in isolation at Sheba Medical Center. Both Israelis contracted the disease while overseas. The other 11 Israeli passengers were evacuated from the coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess Thursday after spending more than two weeks quarantined off the coast of Japan.
They are now in quarantine in Israel.
Hundreds more have self-quarantined over fears they had been exposed to the virus overseas or because they were in contact with South Korean pilgrims who were visiting Israel and who tested positive after returning home.
The Health Ministry on Sunday sent out the itinerary of the South Koreans’ visit to the country. Twenty-nine of the pilgrims were diagnosed with the virus.
Also on Sunday, Netanyahu sent out a directive that all South Korean tourists in the country leave on special flights. Some 622 left the same evening and the next day, the Israel Airport Authority (IAA) said in a statement. Around 900 Koreans still remained in the country.
Many spent the night in Ben Gurion Airport after hotels refused to accommodate them. Airport staff handed out mattresses and blankets.
El Al and Arkia flights transported the Koreans back to their home country and are set to return empty of passengers. The planes will be disinfected upon their return. Flight attendants remained in business class throughout the duration of the flight and only one toured the economy cabin every 30 minutes as a safety measure. Meals were placed on seats prior to boarding.
The Education Ministry cancelled 29 upcoming school trips to Poland over the next month for more than 3,000 Israeli schoolchildren.
The Tel Aviv Marathon will go ahead on Friday as scheduled but only Israelis will be permitted to take part in the event.
Netanyahu on Sunday warned against attempts to tamper with the electoral process ahead of next week’s poll through the dissemination of false reports about coronavirus.
“There could be all kinds of elements, including foreign elements, which could interfere in the elections this way. We have an interest in stopping this,” Netanyahu said during a special assessment at the Health Ministry emergency situation room.
He added that Israel Police and the Shin Bet security agency would be tasked with combating any efforts to influence the vote.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan also expressed his fear that fake reports about the virus will sway voters.
“We can’t ignore that we’re a week and a half before the elections and of course there is a concern there will be implications of the corona on the elections themselves and actors who will attempt to damage the integrity of the elections by disseminating false reports — fake news — on the issue in order to influence the voting percentage in certain areas,” Erdan said, adding that any attempts at doing so constituted a criminal act.
Netanyahu said he would appoint a ministerial team to convene on a daily basis in order to deal the challenges presented by the virus.
Israel has barred entry to foreigners who have been to China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea and Japan in the past two weeks.
The Health Ministry said it would issue a travel advisory for Italy following the spread of the disease there, with five deaths so far.
“We decided there will be travel advisory for Italy,” ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov said at a press conference. “We’ll consider in the coming days if those returning from Italy will be in [home] quarantine for 14 days.”