TEL AVIV – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday evening announced new coronavirus restrictions, particularly in the workplace, but said that Israel would not adopt a full lockdown for now.
Public sector workplaces will shift to 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 said.
The government was set to convene after Netanyahu’s announcement in order to approve the new measures, which include digital tracking means to follow people who have the virus.
“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 that 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.
Israel has confirmed 298 carriers of the virus, a quarter of which showed no symptoms whatsoever. Five are in critical condition. There have been no deaths so far.