TEL AVIV – Israel on Tuesday announced sweeping new restrictions amounting to a near shutdown of the country, telling citizens to avoid going outside unless “absolutely necessary” in a bid to combat the novel coronavirus.
The new measures came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday evening announced a major overhaul of the way Israel’s workforce currently operates.
Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov warned Israelis that “anywhere you go there could be a person with coronavirus.”
“Do not leave your home,” he said in a directive. “Only to go to work or to purchase essential items, such as groceries, medicine and the like.”
Parks, beaches, pools, nature reserves, libraries and museums are now prohibited as well as all social interactions. Classes, workouts and group sports are banned.
The elderly and people of any age who are immunocompromised should not leave home at all and neither should they host people at home.
All dental procedures should be rescheduled unless emergency treatment is required.
Delivery services should be placed at the door.
President Reuven Rivlin appealed to Israelis to stick to the new guidelines.
“The restrictions do not mean vacation!” he said in a statement from his office.
“I know very that being closed up at home is not at all easy. I understand that the children need open spaces and that you parents also need some breathing room. But, nevertheless, we must not turn these days into leisure days… The danger is real!” he said.
“I hear that our beaches and hiking trails are bursting. The danger is real! Let me ask you again to follow the instructions of regarding distancing, and to keep away from gatherings.”
“If we follow the instructions, they will keep us safe. Patience and deep breaths – this is our spirit, and if we keep it up, it will keep us strong,” he added.
A day earlier, Netanyahu announced that public sector workplaces would shift into an “emergency framework” only and the private sector would be reduced to a minimal format, with 70 percent of workers not going to work. Essential services will continue as usual, including supermarkets and pharmacies. These measures would be in place until after Passover.
Netanyahu also said digital tracking means to follow people who have the virus would be implemented.
“The government will approve emergency regulations tonight that will allow the use of digital means for the war on coronavirus. These measures will help us monitor and stop the virus. We agreed to ensure strict oversight of this measure so it is not abused. The attorney general [Avichai Mandelblit] answered our request and tonight we authorize the use of digital means for a limited period of 30 days,” Netanyahu said.
Netanyahu added Israel will not have a broad lockdown, but added specific towns and areas with high numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases may be closed off.
“We are not announcing a general closure and hope we won’t come to that, but we will implement a local lockdown where there is an outbreak so that we can stop it,” Netanyahu said.
“The fight against coronavirus continues all the time. Our hearts are with Italy and Spain. Thank God we have a more mild increase in morbidity and we are doing everything to keep it under control,” Netanyahu said.
Regarding the private sector, companies with 10 or fewer employees would be allowed to go about their business as usual, on the condition that people stick to the two-meters-apart “social distancing” rule.
“Every CEO will decide as of Wednesday morning which employees are on early leave and who are not, and the decision includes local government,” Netanyahu said.
The prime minister reiterated that Israelis had “no reason to horde food” and storm the supermarkets.
“There is enough for Passover too,” he said, referring to the Jewish festival which begins on April 9.
He added public transportation would continue for now, but said there would be some changes. He did not specify what those changes would be.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who spoke after the prime minister, announced a number of steps to aid Israelis financially, including alleviating conditions for receive unemployment benefits and welfare payments.
Netanyahu first announced on Saturday evening Israel would begin using digital tracking tools, relying on cellphone data, to track carriers of the coronavirus.
He also said all recreational businesses, such as movie theaters and malls, would be shuttered. Gatherings of more than 10 people in the same place would be barred. Israel has also closed all kindergartens, pre-schools, schools and universities until further notice.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Israel had confirmed 324 carriers of the virus, a quarter of which showed no symptoms whatsoever. Five are in critical condition. There have been no deaths so far.
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