Israel will have no choice but to implement a full closure even within the next few days unless there is an immediate improvement in the trend of the number of people infected with coronavirus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Wednesday, minutes after the number of sick Israelis climbed to 2,369, according to the Health Ministry.
"The steps that we have taken here in Israel are being taken all over the world; however, they are not enough because the number of patients is doubling every three days,” the prime minister said. “In two weeks we are liable to find ourselves with thousands of patients many of whom will be in danger of death.
“Therefore, I am already telling you,” he continued, “that if we do not see an immediate improvement in the trend, there will be no alternative but to impose a complete lockdown, except for essential needs such as food and medicines. This is a matter of a few days. We are making all of the requisite preparations – logistical and legal."
The prime minister's speech came only four hours after a new round of stricter regulations to contain the coronavirus outbreak came into effect at 5 p.m., and on the backdrop of the news that two more Israelis died overnight, bringing the total to five.
Netanyahu added that the Defense Ministry and the Mossad are working together to procure necessary medical equipment from abroad, as well as considering ways to have such equipment manufactured in Israel. He added that a plan to ease the economic strain on the Israeli public and businesses would be rolled out in the coming days.
The government-approved state-of-emergency restrictions drastically reduce freedom of movement. For the next seven days at least, people will only be allowed to go on short walks within 100 meters of their homes.
Additional restrictions: Public transport will be drastically reduced; attending weddings or other religious ceremonies is allowed, if 10-participant and two-meter rules are followed; going to the mikvah is allowed, as long as arrangements have been made in advance; only two people may travel in a car at one time and they may only be traveling to or from an approved place of work or to the grocery store, pharmacy or a medical appointment; private taxis will be available, but only one passenger and the driver can be in the car at a time.
No deliveries can be made except for approved items including newspapers, and essential products and appliances, such as for medical needs.
All businesses must be closed, including from within one's residence, except for various food stores and pharmacies, and those selling optical, hygiene or telecommunications products, electrical appliances or medical accessories. Online sale with shipping is allowed for all types of products: when delivered to private homes, the shipment will be placed outside the residence.
Essential services will remain open, including supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations and banks, which will operate as normal. However, stores must mark a two 2-meter distance between people at checkout lines and ensure that no more than four people are waiting to check out at a time.
People can go to work as long as the guidelines are followed, but employers must check the temperature of all those arriving and anyone with a temperature of more than 38 degrees Celsius or above must be refused.
In addition, the government has approved Israeli's right to protest, so long as they do it in accordance with the Health Ministry's rules: no more than 10 people and a space of two meters between people.
In addition, children of divorced parents can continue to travel between the two houses.
Breaking the regulations constitutes a criminal offense and those who transgress them will face fines between NIS 500 and NIS 5,000 or a suspended jail sentence.
Police reported on Wednesday that it had so far opened 135 investigations against individuals who broke quarantine and 163 cases against those who held illegal gatherings.
Back to the victims, a 76-year-old man, Hillel Moshe from Yehud, was named as Israel's fourth victim. He had been hospitalized at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, since last Monday and had significant pre-existing medical conditions. Moshe's wife is also hospitalized in Sheba with the virus.
The fifth victim is Reuven Ben-Moshe, 87, from Petah Tikva. He had been hospitalized in Bnei Brak. He also had pre-existing conditions.
The name of the third person who died was released Wednesday: Moshe Ornstein, 87, who had been a resident in the Nofim Geriatric Center in Jerusalem. He had been hospitalized at Hadassah University Medical Center, in Jerusalem's Ein Kerem.
Of the 2,369 infected people reported by the Health Ministry, 39 were in serious condition, 64 in moderate condition and 2,197 had mild symptoms. Among those in serious condition is a 45-year-old patient who, according to Channel 12, had no preexisting medical conditions.
More than 1,000 Israelis with the virus are being treated at home. Another 281 are recovering in one of the "coronavirus hotels" that were set up by the Defense Ministry, while almost 400 are hospitalized.
Netanyahu said that more than 5,000 tests for coronavirus had been conducted on Wednesday, pushing the total number of tests conducted to around 37,000 - which means around 6% of those tested for the virus have been diagnosed as positive.
Boaz Toporovsky (Blue and White) and Sondos Saleh (Joint List) became the latest MKs to enter home quarantine on Tuesday, bringing up the number to 10. Five MKs, including two ministers, ended their quarantine on Wednesday.
In addition, late Tuesday night, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman and other senior comptroller officials announced that they would go into 10 days of quarantine after a senior official in the office tested positive for the coronavirus. Englman has no symptoms, but took the measure as a matter of standard precautions directed by the Health Ministry, and will continue to carry out his duties.
The quarantine announcement came only days after Englman issued the first report of his term, which included a key chapter about Israel knowing already in the fall of 2019 that it is not properly prepared for the breakout of a pandemic.
Late Wednesday, in an impassioned speech, President Reuven Rivlin asked the public to "learn the art of obedience:
"My fellow Israeli citizens, once I was a young man and now I am old," the president said. "As a child I personally experienced the siege of Jerusalem. As a people and as a nation, we have known the most severe moments of existential threat, and we beat them. I have no doubt in my heart that today, too, if we hold fast to public and personal responsibility and to the mutual obligations we have to each other, we can beat this."
Yonah Jeremy Bob and Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.