2020 coronavirus pandemic in Israel
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|2020 coronavirus pandemic in Israel|
Magen David Adom worker dressed in protective gear walks beside a mobile intensive care unit
|First outbreak||Wuhan, Hubei, China|
|Index case||Ramat Gan|
|Arrival date||21 February 2020|
(1 month and 2 weeks)
The first case of the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic in Israel was confirmed on 21 February 2020, after a female citizen tested positive for coronavirus disease 2019 at the Sheba Medical Center after return from quarantine on the Diamond Princess ship in Japan. As a result, a 14-day home isolation rule was instituted for anyone who had visited South Korea or Japan, and a ban was placed on non-residents and non-citizens who were in South Korea for 14 days before their arrival.
On 11 March, Israel limited gatherings to 100 people. On 15 March, gatherings were limited to 10 people, with attendees advised to keep a distance of 2 m (6 ft 7 in) between one another. On 19 March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a national state of emergency, saying that existing restrictions would henceforth be legally enforceable, and violators would be fined. Israelis were not allowed to leave their homes unless absolutely necessary. Essential services—including food stores, pharmacies, and banks—would remain open. On 20 March, an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor in Jerusalem who suffered from previous illnesses was announced as the country's first casualty. Restrictions on movement were further tightened on 25 March and 1 April, with all individuals required to wear a face mask outdoors. As coronavirus diagnoses spiked in the city of Bnei Brak, reaching nearly 1,000 infected individuals at the beginning of April, the cabinet voted to declare the city a "restricted zone", limiting entry and exit for a period of one week.
Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman and his wife tested positive for the coronavirus on 2 April; Litzman is the first member of the cabinet to be infected. He is self-quarantining and working from home. Other top government leaders who had been in contact with Litzman—including Prime Minister Netanyahu, Director-General of the Ministry of Health Moshe Bar Siman Tov, Mossad Director Yossi Cohen, National Security Council Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, head of Public Health Services Dr. Sigal Sadetsky, and head of Hadassah Medical Center Prof. Zev Rotstein—all went into self-isolation after his diagnosis was announced.
The pandemic comes amid the absence of an official government, as no ruling coalition has been formed following the 2020 Israeli legislative election, the third since the dissolution of the government in December 2018. Netanyahu continues to act as prime minister and has been accused of adopting additional powers in the effort to monitor and contain the spread of the virus.
On 21 February, Israel confirmed the first case of COVID-19. A female Israeli citizen who had flown home from Japan after being quarantined on the Diamond Princess tested positive at Sheba Medical Center. On 23 February, a second former Diamond Princess passenger tested positive, and was admitted to a hospital for isolation.
On 1 March, a female soldier tested positive for the virus. She had been working at the toy store managed by the same man diagnosed on 27 February. On 3 March, three more cases were confirmed. Two contracted the virus at the same toy store: a high school student who worked at the store, and a school deputy principal who shopped there. Following this, 1,150 students entered a two-week quarantine. One other person, who had returned from a trip to Italy on 29 February, also tested positive for the virus.
Travel and entry restrictions
On 26 January 2020, Israel advised against non-essential travel to China. On 30 January, Israel suspended all flights from China. On 17 February, Israel extended the ban to include arrivals from Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau, and Singapore.
On 22 February a flight from Seoul, South Korea, landed at Ben Gurion International Airport. An ad hoc decision was made to allow only Israeli citizens to disembark the plane, and all non-Israeli citizens aboard returned to South Korea. Later, Israel barred the entry of non-residents or non-citizens of Israel who were in South Korea during the 14 days prior to their arrival in Israel. The same directive was applied to those arriving from Japan starting 23 February.
On 26 February, Israel issued a travel warning to Italy, and urged cancelling all travel abroad.
A number of tourists tested positive after visiting Israel, including members of a group from South Korea, two people from Romania, a group of Greek pilgrims, and a woman from the U.S. State of New York. 200 Israeli students were quarantined after being exposed to a group of religious tourists from South Korea. An additional 1,400 Israelis were quarantined after having traveled abroad.
On 9 March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a mandatory quarantine for all people entering Israel, requiring all entrants to quarantine themselves for 14 days upon entering the country. The order was effective immediately for all returning Israelis, and would apply beginning on 13 March for all foreign citizens, who must show that they have arranged for accommodation during their quarantine period.
Voting booths for quarantined citizens
On 2 March, the 2020 Israeli legislative election was held. Multiple secluded voting booths were established for 5,630 quarantined Israeli citizens who were eligible to vote. 4,073 citizens voted in the coronavirus-special voting booths. After the election, numerous Israelis were in quarantine.
On 15 March, Justice Minister Amir Ohana expanded his powers and announced that non-urgent court activity would be frozen. As a result, the corruption trial of Prime Minister Netanyahu was postponed from 17 March to 24 May. The Movement for Quality Government in Israel urged the Attorney General to stay the new regulations.
Mobile phone tracking of infected individuals
On 15 March, the Israeli government proposed allowing the Shin Bet internal security service to track the prior movements of people diagnosed with coronavirus through their mobile phones. The security service would not require a court order for its surveillance. The stated goal of the measure was to identify other people with whom infected individuals came in contact in the two weeks prior to their diagnosis, and to dispatch text messages informing those people that they must enter the 14-day self-quarantine. The security measure was to be in place for only 30 days after approval by a Knesset subcommittee, and all records were to be deleted after that point. Critics branded the proposal an invasion of privacy and civil liberties.
On 17 March, at 1:30 AM, a Knesset committee approved the phone tracking program. Within the first two days, the Ministry of Health text-messaged 400 individuals who had been in proximity to an infected person and told them to enter a 14-day self-quarantine. On 19 March, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, and the Joint List political alliance of Arab parties filed a petition in the Supreme Court of Israel to halt the monitoring program. The same day, several hundred protesters converged on the Knesset to protest the phone surveillance and other restrictions on citizens' movements, as well as the shutdown of the judicial and legislative branches of the government. Police arrested three protesters for violating the ban on gatherings over 10 people, and also blocked dozens of cars from entering Jerusalem and approaching the Knesset building. On 26 March, the Shin Bet said the tracking had led to over 500 Israelis being notified who were then diagnosed with coronavirus.
As late as 15 March, doctors complained that guidelines for testing were too restrictive. On 16 March, the Health Ministry approved a number of experimental treatments for patients suffering from COVID-19.
On 18 March, the Defense Ministry took over purchasing of corona-related gear. On the same day, the Israel Institute for Biological Research announced that they are working on a COVID-19 vaccine.
Repatriation of citizens overseas
By the third week in March, El Al, Israel's national air carrier, responded to a government request to send rescue flights to Peru, India, Australia, Brazil, and Costa Rica to bring home hundreds of Israelis who were stranded around the world due to the worldwide pandemic. On 22 March, 550 Israelis returned from India; a few days before about 1,100 Israeli travelers were repatriated from Peru.
Social distancing and closure of public spaces
On 11 March, Israel began limiting gatherings to 100 people.
On 14 March, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced new regulations and stated the need to "adopt a new way of life". The Health Ministry posted new regulations, effective 15 March. These included banning gatherings of more than 10 people, and closure of all educational institutions, among them daycare centers, special education, youth movements, and after-school programs. The list of venues required to close included malls, restaurants, hotel dining rooms, pubs, dance clubs, gyms, pools, beaches, water and amusement parks, zoos and petting zoos, bathhouses and ritual baths for men, beauty and massage salons, event and conference venues, public boats and cable cars, and heritage sites. Take-away restaurants, supermarkets, and pharmacies were to remain open. The Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock closed to prevent contamination from the holy sites.
As a result of the government's directive for citizens to remain at home, there was an increase in calls to domestic violence hotlines, and women's shelters were close to full capacity, both due to new arrivals and to current residents who remained due to the pandemic.
To encourage social distancing, half of the seats on the Jerusalem Light Rail were marked with signs saying "Sitting on this seat is prohibited".
On 16 March, Israel imposed limitations on the public and private sectors. All non-critical government and local authority workers were placed on paid leave until the end of the Passover holiday. Private sector firms exceeding 10 employees were required to reduce staff present in the workplace by 70%.
By 1 April, the national unemployment rate had reached 24.4 percent. In the month of March alone, more than 844,000 individuals applied for unemployment benefits—90 percent of whom had been placed on unpaid leave due to the pandemic.
As of 19 March, public transportation ridership was down 38.5 percent compared to before the virus outbreak. Public bus operations were strictly curtailed by the government, which placed an 8 p.m. curfew on bus operations nightly, and halted all public transportation between Thursday night at 8 p.m. and Sunday morning, going beyond the usual hiatus on public transportation in Israel during Shabbat (from Friday evening to Saturday evening).
As of 22 March Israel's Ministry of Transport and Road Safety and its National Public Transportation Authority instituted a notification system allowing passengers using public transportation to inquire whether they had shared a ride with a person sick with Covid-19. The travel histories will be stored through the use of the country's electronic bus card passes, known as Rav-Kav.
Israel embassy in Greece closure
On 9 March, after it was discovered that an employee at the Israeli embassy in Greece had also contracted coronavirus and spread it to two family members, it was announced that the embassy was temporarily shutting down.
Economic rescue package
On 30 March Prime Minister Netanyahu announced an economic rescue package totaling 80 billion shekels ($22 billion), saying that was 6% of the country's GDP. The money will be allocated to health care (10 billion shekels); welfare and unemployment (30 billion shekels) aid for small and large businesses (32 billion shekels) and to financial stimulus (8 billion).
Private sector reactions
The pandemic forced many events to be cancelled. Notwithstanding the closure of wedding halls, weddings took place in private homes with the limitation of no more than 10 participants in each room; dancing took place both indoors and in outdoor courtyards. Weddings were also held on rooftops and yeshiva courtyards. In one case, a Sephardi couple opted to hold their wedding ceremony in an Osher Ad supermarket, which was exempt from the 10-person rule.
The Health Ministry's rules on indoor gatherings, which were reduced from 100 to 10, still take into account the minimum number of members needed for a minyan (public prayer quorum). With stricter restrictions placed on citizens on 25 March (see below), the two Chief Rabbis of Israel called for all synagogues to be closed and prayer services to be held outdoors in groups of 10, with 2 m (6 ft 7 in) between each worshipper. Many synagogues in Jerusalem were locked and prayer services held outdoors. Due to the uptick in coronavirus diagnoses in Bnei Brak, leading Haredi posek Chaim Kanievsky issued an unprecedented statement on 29 March instructing Bnei Brak residents not to pray with a minyan at all, but individually at home. According to Israeli Ministry of Health statistics, 24% of all coronavirus infections in Israel with known infections points (35% of all known cases) were contracted in synagogues, 15% in hotels and 12% in restaurants.
After back-and-forth discussions with representatives of the chevra kadisha (Jewish religious burial society), the Health Ministry allowed burial society members to proceed with many traditional aspects of burial for coronavirus victims. Burial workers will be garbed in full protective gear to perform the taharah (ritual purification) of the body, which will then be wrapped in the customary tachrichim (linen shrouds) followed by a layer of plastic. The funeral service must be held completely outdoors. Funeral attendees do not need to wear protective gear.
On 1 April, the Chief Rabbis of Israel published guidelines for observance of Passover laws during the outbreak. The guidelines included praying at home and not in a minyan, selling chametz online, and getting rid of chametz at home in ways other than burning.
National state of emergency
On 19 March, Prime Minister Netanyahu declared a national state of emergency. He said that existing restrictions would henceforth be legally enforceable, and violators would be fined. Israelis were not allowed to leave their homes unless absolutely necessary. Essential services would remain open. News reports showed hundreds of Israelis ignoring the new ban on Shabbat, 21 March, and visiting beaches, parks, and nature spots in large numbers, prompting the Ministry of Health to threaten imposing tighter restrictions on the public.
- People must not venture more than 100 m (330 ft) from their homes. Exceptions include:
- Employee arrival to work is permitted according to regulations
- Acquiring food, medicine, essential products and receiving essential services
- Receiving medical treatment
- Blood donation
- Legal proceedings
- Arriving at the Knesset
- Receiving care in the framework of the welfare system
- Departure of an individual or persons living in the same place for a short time and up to 100 meters from the place of residence
- Providing medical assistance to another person or assisting a person with difficulty or distress
- Prayer in an open place, funerals, weddings, and brit milah, as well as a woman's visit to the mikvah, provided that they pre-arranged the time of their arrival
- Transfer of a minor to educational settings for the children of essential workers and special frameworks (in accordance with the Public Health Order).
- Transfer of a minor, whose parents live separately, by one of his parents, to the other parent's home.
- Transfer of a minor whose responsible parent is required to leave for an essential purpose if there is no responsible place for the child to be left under his care.
- Private vehicles may have only 2 passengers. Taxis may have only 1 passenger.
- Essential workers must be tested for fever at their workplace, and anyone with a temperature over 38 °C (100 °F) will be sent home.
- Violators will be subject to a 5,000 shekels fine, or up to six months' imprisonment.
Beginning on April 1 the government proposed to intensify precautionary restrictions on its citizens, requiring them to: refrain from all public gatherings, including prayer quorums of 10 men; limiting outings to two people from the same household; and calling upon them to always wear face masks in public. Netanyahu also announced Passover grants to families of 500 shekels per child for the first four children under the age of 18. A similar grant has been promised to senior citizens and disabled people. Both proposals need to be approved by the Knesset.
Closure of cities with high rates of infection
On 2 April the cabinet voted by conference call to declare Bnei Brak a "restricted zone", limiting entry and exit to "residents, police, rescue services, those bringing essential supplies and journalists", for an initial period of one week. With a population of 200,000, Bnei Brak had the second-highest number of coronavirus cases of all Israeli cities in total numbers, and the highest rate per capita. The cabinet reserved discussion on closing other cities with high rates of infection.
Relations with neighbouring countries and territories
On 17 March, the Defense Ministry tightened restrictions on Palestinian workers, limiting entry to those working in essential sectors, and requiring that they remain in Israel instead of commuting. Also, Israel and the Palestinian Authority set up a joint operations room to coordinate response to the virus.
On 25 March, the Palestinian Authority urged all Palestinians working in Israel to return to the West Bank. All those returning were requested to self-isolate.
On 8 March, Israel closed down the Taba Border Crossing, fearing the spread of the coronavirus from Egypt. The entry ban applied to any non-Israeli person attempting entry from Egypt. Israeli nationals returning from Egypt were required to enter an immediate 14-day quarantine.
While Israel had not put restrictions on the Jordanian border crossings, the Jordanian Kingdom decided to close the border with Israel as well as all other neighbouring countries beginning from March 11.
|Note: Data as of 2020/04/01 23:59 IDT|
- Since the case growth rate is not constant, the doubling time on any given day is calculated from the change in the total number of cases relative to 3 days prior, assuming a constant growth rate over the 3-day interval. For a change from total cases to , the doubling time is .
- Doubling time data by city is incomplete. As of March 29, 2020, the Ministry of Health does not make the number of cases by city available to the general public.
- Not included in this data is the death in Italy of one Israeli tourist.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to COVID-19 pandemic in Israel.|
- The Novel Coronavirus. Israel's government website
- Coronavirus information and updates. Israel's government website
- COVID-19. Israel Ministry of Health
- Israel Ministry of Health coronavirus updates on Telegram (in Hebrew)