Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Friday that if there is not an improvement in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the next two days, he will have no choice but to order the country into a complete shutdown.
Netanyahu held a series of discussions with top ministers regarding additional steps the country can take to manage the ongoing crisis, “including preparations for a closure,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered preparations to significantly tighten restrictions on transport, to even further minimize those traveling outside in order to prevent the spread of the disease,” his office said.
He said that authorities would bring the additional movement restrictions before the cabinet in 48 hours.
“The prime minister also stated in the discussions that if we do not see a reduction in the numbers of infected in the next two days we will have no choice but to impose a full closure,” the statement said.
Hebrew-language media reported serious disagreements between Netanyahu and other ministers over the need to shut down the economy amid Health Ministry fears that the upcoming Passover holiday will lead to an explosion of infections as people try and shop for the festive meal or spend time with relatives.
During the discussions Netanyahu requested the Finance Ministry give him answers by Saturday night on the possibility of reducing economic activity in Israel to just 10%, down from the current 30%, Channel 13 reported, saying that Netanyahu wants to enforce the harsh restrictions in the next three weeks until the end of the Passover holiday.
“From an economic perspective it will be OK. We can revive the economy with artificial respiration. That won’t be the problem,” Chanel 13 quoted Netanyahu as saying in leaked remarks from the meeting.
“The problem will be if we can’t stem the pandemic and we have thousands of seriously ill people in the next few weeks,” Netanyahu said.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who will likely be leaving his post in the next few weeks if a unity government is formed, warned such steps would lead Israel to an “economic catastrophe.”
“I probably won’t be here in the next few weeks so I come from a neutral position,” he said. “You are doing the good, the bad and the ugly here. Everyone wants to save souls and the economy, but I’m telling you we are heading to an economic catastrophe,” the report quoted him as saying.
Defense Minister Naftali Bennett also reportedly expressed opposition to a full closure, while Interior Minister Aryeh Deri called for only those over 65 to be put under lockdown. “Don’t let them out of the house, let their children take care of them and in the meantime we can return the economy to life.”
The Ministry of Finance will formulate a plan to further scale-back the workforce, the Prime Minister’s Office added.
On Saturday night, Netanyahu will hold a meeting with Finance Ministry officials in order to produce a “comprehensive plan” to provide further “assistance to the economy,” his office said.
However, ministry officials said they were looking to present Netanyahu with alternatives. Israel Radio reported that officials were hoping to only reduce economic activity to 25%.
Netanyahu also directed authorities to increase enforcement in supermarkets to prevent more than 10 people from congregating inside in violation of Health Ministry guidelines.
Some 500 soldiers will be deployed across the country beginning Sunday to assist police in enforcing the government’s latest restrictions on movement to stem the coronavirus pandemic, the IDF announced Friday.
This appeared to be a first step toward preparing for a full national lockdown, in which the military would deploy an additional 2,000-3,000 troops to assist police.
The soldiers will come from the military’s various training bases and will assist police by performing patrols, ensuring people remain in quarantine, blocking roads and protecting the officers, according to the military.
Header: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) holds the weekly cabinet meeting via video conference call from the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem due to coronavirus regulations, March 15, 2020. (Haim Zach/GPO)