IDF bans all troops from flying abroad over coronavirus fears

Restriction begins today at noon • 500-600 soldiers in quarantine, including OC Operations Directorate Maj.-Gen. Aaron Haliva.

Israeli Defense Minister joins IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi for large-scale drill in the north. (photo credit: MINISTRY OF DEFENSE)
Israeli Defense Minister joins IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi for large-scale drill in the north.
(photo credit: MINISTRY OF DEFENSE)
To prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, no soldier will be allowed to leave the country starting at noon on Friday, the IDF announced Thursday.
The decision was made by Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kochavi in accordance with the Health Ministry’s guidelines and following a situational assessment with the General Staff.
Kochavi is taking a strict approach to reduce the number of soldiers with the virus in an effort to maintain the IDF’s operational readiness, which is essential to the security of the State of Israel, IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman said.
“We have three main tasks: maintaining operational readiness, reducing the spread of the virus and preparing to help out on a national scale, which is not happening at this time,” he said.
“I want to be careful with spreading rumors,” Zilberman said. “Another situational assessment will take place [Thursday] evening. All information and decisions taken are continuously updated on the IDF website twice daily,” including the number of soldiers quarantined.
Some 500 to 600 soldiers are currently in quarantine, and should any soldier need to be placed in quarantine, the Health Ministry would be contacted right away, he said. As of Thursday, 17 Israelis have been diagnosed with the virus, including one soldier, and some 70,000 Israelis  are in self-quarantine.
In addition to preventing all IDF personnel from traveling abroad, all joint military drills – in Israel and abroad – have been canceled. A committee formed by the military may permit some exceptions to the ban on a case-by-case basis, such as specific operational trips abroad or for troops who need to leave the country for pressing medical or family reasons.
The General Staff was to hold an evaluation [Thursday] evening to discuss stricter guidelines, including limiting conducting troop training sessions, requiring people to fill out medical screening questions prior to entering military facilities, purchasing specialized equipment, limiting conferences and ceremonies and limiting contact in command centers and headquarters.
Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Eyal Zamir will coordinate the IDF’s response to the virus along with OC Operations Directorate Maj.-Gen. Aaron Haliva, who is in self-isolation following a trip to Italy, the Medical Corps and Home Front Command, which works closely with civilian emergency response services.
IDF COORDINATOR of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) announced on Thursday it has been helping the Palestinian healthcare system in the effort to curb the spread of the virus in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
According to a statement, 250 coronavirus test kits have been transferred from Israel to the PA, and joint training sessions for both Israeli and Palestinian medical personnel have been organized for the professional study of the virus, the protection of medical personnel and the testing of patients suspected of being virus carriers.
In addition, COGAT has made available to the Palestinian public through its digital platform – the unit’s website and Arabic language social-media pages (Al-Munassiq) – the Health Ministry’s guidelines on preventing the spreading of the virus and ways to deal with an outbreak.
“COGAT will continue to cooperate closely with the PA to curb the spread of the coronavirus in coordination with the Israeli authorities, especially the Health Ministry and Magen David Adom,” the statement said.
The Health Ministry recommended that citizens refrain from traveling abroad due to the virus. On Wednesday, the IDF announced that Kochavi was postponing a scheduled trip to the US due to the Health Ministry’s recommendation.
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett approved all decisions made by Kochavi regarding the prevention of widening the coronavirus contagion. He also held a meeting with security and health officials regarding the possible transition to epidemic status, which involves the transfer of incident management to the security establishment, in response to the continued spread of the virus.
As of March 5, the Health Ministry is responsible for combating the coronavirus. In a government decision made in 2002, the overall responsibility for dealing with a pandemic with a high death rate rests with the defense minister, who coordinates the matter with the cabinet.
The Defense Ministry said although the discussion took place on Thursday morning, it was a discussion of preparations for an extreme scenario.
Also on Thursday, President Reuven Rivlin visited IDF Central Command headquarters in Jerusalem escorted by OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Nadav Padan, OC Judea and Samaria Brigade Brig.-Gen Yaniv Alalouf and Central Command staff.
“According to the instructions of the commanders of the war against coronavirus at the Health Ministry, we will avoid shaking hands as much as possible,” Rivlin said. “Since we are in the army, we can salute without any difficulty. Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman is the commander in chief when it comes to corona. He decided that we don’t shake hands, and we follow his orders.”