The government rolled out a new set of restrictions on the Israeli population Tuesday, after which the number of coronavirus patients increased to 427 on Wednesday morning. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised there would be a dramatic increase in the number of sick people detected, tests taken and hospital equipment available to serve the infected.
“We started today using the digital technology that detects those who come in contact with coronavirus patients,” Netanyahu said in a press briefing. “We will send these people into isolation. These will be large numbers. Isolation is not a recommendation - it is mandatory, and we will enforce it without compromise."
He likewise committed to “dramatically” increasing the number of people tested for coronavirus to the largest number per capita in the world. Netanyahu said that he expects between 3,000 and 5,000 tests to be taken per day, comparing Israel to South Korea. That country tests around 15,000 people per day and has a population around five times larger than Israel’s.
The prime minister also noted that hospitals are upgrading to be able to handle more sick patients, including that the country has purchased 1,000 additional ventilators to treat those who fall victim to the virus, which can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome or pneumonia.
“I am happy to report that, as of now, not a single Israeli has died,” Netanyahu said, “but sadly this will not be the situation going forward.
"I ask for discipline and responsibility,” he continued. “All of these steps will not help if there is no discipline and responsibility on your part. I can sadly say that there are many of you that still don’t understand the level of danger we are facing. This is not children’s play. This is a matter of life or death.
“Love is keeping your distance,” he concluded.
The bottom line of these new restrictions: Israelis are not allowed to leave their homes unless "absolutely necessary."
"Do not leave your home," said Health Ministry director general Moshe Bar Siman Tov in a video message to the public. "Only go to work... or to purchase essential items, such as groceries, medicine or the like."
Visiting parks, beaches, pools, libraries and museums is now prohibited as are all social interactions, which the ministry said should be conducted on the phone or by other digital means. Group sports and workout classes are also all cancelled effective immediately.
Elderly people and those with respiratory conditions or weak immune systems should not leave their homes nor should they invite guests over.
One day after Netanyahu told citizens that the public sector would work in emergency mode but that the private sector could operate at 70%, the new restrictions require that all work that can be done should be done from home. If one does have to go into work, all businesses should ensure that employees keep two meters from each other, and that good hygiene is maintained.
All dental procedures should be rescheduled unless it is an emergency.
Delivery services may only bring deliveries to the front door.
"Safeguard yourself," said Bar Siman Tov. "Anywhere you go there could be a person with coronavirus. You could be infected and put others at risk… Our ability to beat coronavirus is largely dependent on you."
Bar Siman Tov predicted that the number of sick people in Israel will grow exponentially even in the coming days. He said that we could see “as early as tomorrow, at least 100 sick people per day” and that the country could end up in a situation where “hundreds of people are diagnosed daily, and some people will die.”
Like Netanyahu, the Health Ministry stressed that the new restrictions were necessary because Israelis failed to stay home and follow its instructions. The day after it encouraged people not to gather in groups of 10 or more, the streets were full of passerby and beaches crowded with sunbathers and other visitors.
“Stay at home,” Bar Siman Tov reiterated. “Don’t visit grandma and grandpa. I say this with a heavy heart: the way to protect our parents and grandparents is not to go visit them.”
HOWEVER, as part of the new system, some Israelis will actually be encouraged to leave their homes - even those already in isolation - as Israel rolls out its first 24-hour drive-through coronavirus testing station in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, with five more expected to open soon after in Haifa, Jerusalem, Petah Tikva, Rishon Lezion and Beersheba.
The new system will allow the country to test thousands of Israelis per day, according to Magen David Adom.
Citizens will arrive at these new drive-through complexes in their private vehicles and the sample will be taken while they're sitting in the car.
The complexes will be in open areas, which will allow for continuous entry and exit of vehicles, such as parking for football fields and parking lots. They will be staffed by teams of MDA EMTs and paramedics, members of the Israeli police and security guards. All staff will be dressed in full anti-infection gear.
A release by the organization explained that anyone approved by a physician to be sampled will receive an SMS message with the details and will be asked to arrive at the testing center at a specific time. He or she will undergo an identification process, be tested and then drive directly home.
Patients who are unable to access the complex without the use of public transport will be able to do the sampling in their home, as it has been done so far.
On Monday, MDA paramedics took samples from 1,085 people nationwide, an increase from the daily average of 750 tests. Until now, MDA has taken around 7,000 tests.
OF THE 337 Israeli at press time on Tuesday who had coronavirus at press time, five of them are in critical condition, according to the Health Ministry.
In addition, 10 people are in moderate condition and 311 have mild cases of the virus, according to the ministry report.
The rate of people in critical condition (1.5%) in Israel is lower than the world average, where around 5% of patients are in critical condition. However, as Channel 12 explained, Israel is at a tipping point. In Spain, for example, on March 6 there were 401 sick people and 10 days later, on March 16, there were 9,942 infected, including more than 500 dead.
Some 234 people are hospitalized, 20 are expected to be hospitalized and 64 patients are being treated in home isolation. For the other patients, a treatment plan has not been decided.
Eight patients were transferred on Tuesday to Tel Aviv's first recovery hotel, which was inaugurated the same day by Defense Minister Naftali Bennett. Tomorrow, a similar coronavirus hotel will open in Jerusalem, and Sheba Medical Center will open a new 40-bed coronavirus isolation unit in a space that was formerly used as a parking lot.
Some 50,337 people are in isolation. Eleven Israelis have recovered from COVID-19.
Among the sick are three people who work in the Central Laboratory for Detecting Coronavirus of the Ministry of Health at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer. On Monday, the lab was shut down because its deputy director-general became infected. The new diagnoses include two additional staff members, Kan news reported.
On Sunday night, a senior doctor at Ichilov Hospital was reported by Ynet to have contracted the virus. All the patients in her unit – many of them senior citizens – had to be tested and transferred to another unit, and her staff was sent home to self-isolate. The next morning, an intern in the hospital’s urology department also tested positive for coronavirus.
In addition, the IDF confirmed that patients No. 273, 335 and 336 are soldiers, one from the north of the country and the other two a couple from the center of the country. The IDF Medical Corps and the Health Ministry are together conducting a comprehensive epidemiological investigation and will share that information soon.
MK Tzachi Hanegbi refrained from attending the Knesset swearing in ceremony on Monday because he feared he had been in contact with someone who might have coronavirus. Hanegbi went into isolation but was released on Tuesday when his test came back negative.Two other MKs are in isolation: Ram Ben Barak and Alon Schuster, both members of Blue and White.
Furthermore, a report disseminated by Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem's Ein Kerem shared that the condition of an 89-year-old woman who was infected with coronavirus deteriorated overnight and she is considered in critical condition.
So far, as Netanyahu stressed, no one in Israel has died from the coronavirus.
On Thursday at 6 p.m., Israelis will applaud Israeli medical teams for two minutes by stepping out on their balconies or into their private gardens, front yards or open windows and cheering their efforts.
But not everyone is likely to be celebrating.
The news of increased restrictions was announced as the Israel Airports Authority (IAA) said that Terminal 1 at Ben-Gurion Airport will close Wednesday until at least the end of April. Local flights from Ramon International Airport near Eilat, which usually arrive at Terminal 1, will now land at Terminal 3.
According to the IAA, there are currently only two daily flights operating between Ramon and Ben-Gurion Airport. On Monday, Israeli airline Arkia said it would be halting operations on the route until after the Passover holiday.
Some 5,891 flights to and from Israel have been cancelled in March alone, leading to a decline of approximately 1.2 million passengers. In January and February combined, a total of 530 flights were cancelled. Of the remaining 2,065 flights scheduled to fly before the end of the month, the IAA "expects many additional cancellations." Flights still operating are only 47% full on average, down from 76% earlier this year.
Confirming announcements made in recent weeks, Israeli airline El Al and its subsidiaries placed 5,500 employees on unpaid leave on Tuesday until May 31.
The Jerusalem Light Rail will also be reducing ride time. On Thursday it will operate only until 8 p.m. and cease working on the weekend entirely.
Shares on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange climbed slightly on Tuesday, recovering some of the heavy losses endured the day before as the novel coronavirus outbreak continued to instill fear in investors.
At the closing bell, the benchmark TA-35 index climbed 2.12%, and the TA-125 was up by 1.73%, with energy companies among those recording the most significant gains.