The Health Ministry guidelines to fight the spread of coronavirus will no longer be recommendations or requests. Rather, overnight Thursday the government signed existing restrictions into legally enforceable orders, hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a national state of emergency.
Going forward, for the next seven days, whoever breaks these orders will be subject to fines.
"There has not been anything like this since the establishment of the state," the prime minister said. "There has actually been no such thing like this in the last 100 years."
“It is not going to be easy; I am asking for your cooperation.”
In general, the new orders include that Israelis are not allowed to leave their homes unless "absolutely necessary." Visiting parks, beaches, pools, libraries and museums is prohibited, as are all social interactions. Work that can be done from home should be.
Currently all “essential” services will remain open, including supermarkets, pharmacies and most medical services. In addition, while Israelis are encouraged to work from home, employees who need to travel to work will be able to do so.
The announcement came on the backdrop of the largest spike in the number of infected Israelis: 677, according to the Health Ministry. At press time Wednesday, 433 Israelis had been diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2 - an increase of 244 patients in one day. By morning, the number of infected Israelis had risen to 705.On Friday it was reported that an 83-year-old man was taken to Hasharon Hospital after being found to be infected with COVID-19 and 74-year-old actor Tuvia Tzafir is also sick with the virus. Tzafir is under medical care in his home.
It is estimated that the number of people infected with the virus will rise significantly in the wake of the increase in the number of tests that are being conducted.
Government hearings in recent days have revealed a significant gap between the Health and Finance ministries. The Health Ministry has been demanding increased restrictions but the Finance Ministry said that it fears further restrictions would cause a serious blow to the economy.
A full lockdown would only be implemented if the public fails to comply with the guidelines presented by the Health Ministry or if the rate of infection across the country sharply rises.
The government has expressed concern over specific sectors of society not adhering to the guidelines: the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and the Arab sectors. The Health Ministry has run special campaigns targeting those sectors in recent days to convince them of the importance of adhering to the restrictions; haredi and Arab leaders have met with ministry officials.
In his remarks, which were delivered shortly after the prime minister’s on Thursday, Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman Tov said that the government is putting these orders into place for three reasons: To push off the spread of the virus; to reduce the total number of Israelis infected; and to flatten the curve for the coronavirus.
He said that the government is “buying precious time” to acquire much needed safety gear and treatment equipment, to staff-up hospitals and to increase the number of hospital beds available to treat potentially critically-ill patients.Minutes after the briefing, the Defense Ministry announced that it had purchased 2,500 ventilators at a cost of more than NIS 50 million. The first machine will arrive in Israel by mid-May.
It is likely that the number of infections in Israel jumped so much in recent days because of the significant increase in the number of tests that have been conducted - around 2,200 daily, according to the Health Ministry, with the goal of reaching as many as 5,000 tests per day.
On Friday, many more Israelis were listed in critical condition – a total to 10, including a 91-year-old woman who has been described as worse than the rest – but the majority of those afflicted (662) have mild symptoms, the ministry reported.
Eighteen Israelis are in moderate condition and 15 have recovered.
ON TUESDAY, the IDF’s Homefront Command along with the Israel Police and Health Ministry opened the country’s first corona quarantine facility in Tel Aviv’s Dan Panorama Hotel; soon after, a similar facility opened in Jerusalem. In total, four hotels will be opened across the country to isolate those diagnosed with the virus as well as provide them with medical care as needed.
So far, 47 Israelis are taking advantage of these hotels.
Moreover, the Israeli military is moving to a higher state of readiness and is preparing to assist the police to enforce a quarantine should a full nationwide lockdown be imposed due to the continued spread of the deadly coronavirus, IDF spokesman Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman announced on Thursday.
While a national state of emergency has not been declared as Netanyahu explained on Thursday, the defense establishment has been preparing to assist should he announce the move and a full countrywide lockdown is imposed. The military will also be enforcing the regulations imposed by the Health Ministry on all bases across the country.
Zilberman, on a conference call with reporters, said that IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi held a situational assessment with the General Staff regarding the ongoing pandemic and raised the military’s state of alert in order to deal with the crisis in the country.
The military on Tuesday dubbed the fight against the virus “Operation Sunbeam,” and will see commanders enforce the regulations placed by the Health Ministry to avoid crowds. To ensure that orders are being followed by troops, several surprise reviews have been conducted in 40 bases across the country.
Troops will also work in shifts known as “capsule systems,” especially those in essential units, which will see all troops per shift remain completely separate from the other. Troops will also be asked to refrain from taking public transportation; as such, the military will provide buses in which no more than 25 soldiers will travel at a time.
The military has also been working in conjunction with Magen David Adom rescue services and has established a call center, a national emergency portal, blood drive with a goal to obtain at least 7,000 units of blood, and logistical help for the drive-thru test centers and the quarantine hotels across the country and more.
ON THURSDAY, Israel’s Defense Minister Naftali Bennett ordered the IDF’s Homefront Command to establish the national emergency center to assist the public due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The center will serve as a focal point for managing civilian assistance and will assist local authorities and the general public with food, medical assistance, psychological support, transportation and more.
The center is expected to open next week and will be run by troops from the Homefront Command.
The IDF’s elite 81 Intelligence Technology Unit is also working with MDA, various hospitals and the Health Ministry on technological aspects, including producing face masks for health care providers and 50 vans with internal separators to protect drivers from infected patients, as well as information management software for laboratories testing for the coronavirus.
According to Zilberman, the unit is aiming to produce some 1,000 masks per day, with 400 masks having already been delivered to medical professionals. In a bid to support health care providers, hundreds of female soldiers will also support medical professionals by caring for and teaching their children.
Zilberman also confirmed that the IDF will be testing Israelis for the coronavirus along with crews from Magen David Adom. Starting Thursday morning, some 100 crews will begin travelling to the homes of Israelis across the country who are suspected of carrying the virus.
Despite reports that the military is also currently discussing the process of establishing a field hospital in the south of the country for patients who are slightly ill with the virus, Zilberman denied the reports, saying that the military is not equipped to build such facilities. The field hospitals that the military can build are better suited for natural disasters such as earthquakes.
Rather, the holiday village at Ashkelon of “Yahad – United for Israel’s Soldiers” will be converted into an inpatient facility for soldiers who have been diagnosed with the virus. It will open as early as Friday morning, managed by the military’s Medical Corps.
Police, however, have already been working to stop civilians from breaking quarantine, which is against the law. Police opened criminal investigations against 92 people who allegedly violated quarantine instructions by the Health Ministry, and arrested three people who were actively violating it. One man was arrested three times after he continued to break his quarantine.
Some 13 criminal cases are currently being investigated against people suspected of spreading fake news about the novel coronavirus and promoting panic among the general public.
Police and inspectors from the Health Ministry have visited the homes of 2,831 Israelis, at the time of writing.
THE IMPACT of the recent restrictions has already given a major hit to the Israeli public, as thousands of Israelis have been sent on unpaid leave.
The National Insurance Institute reported that 95,600 people registered between Wednesday at 6 p.m. and Thursday at 8 a.m. - almost 7,000 per hour.
Since the beginning of March, around 400,000 job seekers have registered for financial assistance: 86% of those who applied for financial assistance were sent on unpaid leave. More than half of those applying (53%) were men.
At the same time, the Foreign Ministry on Thursday called on all Israelis abroad to return to Israel as soon as possible due to countries closing their borders and canceling all their flights as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
"Due to reduction and cancellation of flights all over the world and the decision of many countries to close their skies and borders due to the coronavirus outbreak, we call on all Israelis abroad to come back to Israel as soon as possible," the Foreign Ministry stated.
The ministry added that even though tickets are hard to come by and some routes are uncomfortable, there are still aviation companies flying. For the convenience of those seeking to return to the country, the ministry compiled a list of possible ways to leave the countries.
Among those who went in and out of quarantine: Former Beit Shemesh mayor Moshe Abutbul became the fifth MK to be quarantined on Thursday after he and his son were in contact with a technician at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem who was diagnosed with the virus.
Abutbul joined ministers Arye Deri (Shas) and Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) and Blue and White MKs Ram Ben-Barak and Alon Shuster in quarantine.
In contrast, Shalva Dahan, the last patient in hospital at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, who had been quarantined on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked off of Japan, was released, a spokesperson for Sheba said. Dahan had spent 28 days in an isolation room at Sheba after she was diagnosed with the novel coronavirus upon her return to Israel. Over 700 of the ship's more than 3,700 passengers caught the virus, and at least seven have died.
Worldwide, nearly 215,000 people have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus and close to 10,000 have died. However, on Thursday, for the first time, China reported no new domestic cases.
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.