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As cases climb to 39, Israel weighs quarantine for anyone coming from abroad

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that rather than expand the list of countries from which returning travelers will be required to enter home quarantine, Israel could extend the directive to the entire world.

He said that a decision on the matter would be made in the coming hours.

“If we take more steps, it will be on all countries,” the premier said during a press conference on the coronavirus outbreak with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, the director-general of the Health Ministry.

The press conference came hours before the Health Ministry announced that fourteen more Israelis had contracted the virus, bringing the number of infected citizens to 39.

“We’re not talking about closing our gates. We’re only talking about requiring quarantines for Israelis who return from abroad,” Netanyahu said.

Despite expectation that he would announce a directive targeting passengers returning from the US, or at least from the states where the highest number of cases have been documented, the prime minister avoided doing so.

He added that additional meetings would be held with senior officials in Israel and around the world in the coming hours before a possible expansion of directives aimed at limiting the scope of the outbreak.

Among the conversations Netanyahu said to take place in the coming hours would be a phone conference with countries in the Middle East.

“This is not an easy decision. Health comes first. It secures the economy,” he said.

Netanyahu added that he had just gotten off the phone with US Vice President Mike Pence and they had agreed that their countries would hold follow-up talks with the participation of White House coronavirus coordinator Dr. Deborah L. Birx in the coming hours.

“The talks will be held in order to advance technological and scientific cooperation on the issue of the Coronavirus and to discuss joint ways of dealing with the challenges posed by the virus,” the PMO said in a statement

The premier claimed the government was also working on developing a home testing kit for the coronavirus, comparing the idea to a pregnancy test device.

Siman-Tov said at the press conference that Israelis should be prepared for the situation to get worse, but insisted that authorities had the situation under control and were doing their best to contain the outbreak.

He said that he was seeing more and more countries losing control of the virus, and that Israel’s seemingly draconian measures to restrict entry have saved lives.

Earlier Sunday, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that he was considering declaring a state of emergency in light of the coronavirus outbreak.

“I’m going to consider the need to announce a ‘civilian state of emergency,’ which will give authorities much broader powers,” he said at the opening of a fire station in Jerusalem, without specifying the scope of such a declaration.

Also on Sunday, the Israel Police and Health Ministry announced the establishment of a joint task force that will enforce quarantine orders placed against some 80,000 Israelis to prevent the spread of the virus.

Since the outbreak last month, nine cases have been opened against Israelis who knowingly violated the quarantine orders or attempted to disrupt Health Ministry inspectors in carrying out their duties, police said.

Health Ministry deputy director-general Itamar Grotto estimated that the number of Israeli COVID-19 cases could surge to tens of thousands.

Netanyahu declared on Saturday that the disease was a pandemic.