Health minister says quarantine for all Israelis flying in likely Monday

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said Monday morning that it was likely there would be an announcement later in the day that travelers from all over the world will be required to enter home quarantine after entering Israel.

Litzman told Army Radio that a wider set of protocols was a “necessary step.”

“We are considering it and I expect it to happen,” Litzman said. “We think it’s important. We will look at other considerations, including economic, and we will make a decision.”

The health minister dismissed as “fake news” the suggestion that casting such a broad net would be an attempt to not single out the United States, where infection rates appear to be rocketing.

He also denied that political considerations were tainting his ministry’s decisions, saying that there was “no problem” when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with US Vice President Mike Pence about the matter on Sunday.

Asked specifically about returnees from last week’s AIPAC conference, where three attendees were later found to have been infected by the virus, Litzman avoided answering.

Fourteen Israelis were added Sunday evening to the list of those who have contracted the coronavirus, including the first in the country whose source of infection was unknown, bringing the total number of cases to 39.

Despite expectations that Netanyahu 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 at a press conference with Litzman earlier in the day.

Anonymous sources told the Haaretz daily on Monday there was concern that public health considerations were taking a backseat to politics and that there was a lack of transparency in the decision-making process.

In addition, questions have been asked about why Belgium has not been included on the list of countries from where travelers must be isolated, with sources suggesting to the newspaper that the powerful Orthodox community there may have played a role in that decision.

Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, the director-general of the Health Ministry, said at the press conference Sunday 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.

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

Israel has already required returning Israelis from several countries to self-quarantine, and barred foreigners from a slew of European and Asian countries. Some 80,000 Israelis are now reported to be in self-quarantine, and large events such as concerts and sporting matches have been canceled.

Israelis have also been advised against all non-vital international travel.

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