Israel and the Coronavirus: Dealing with a Crisis

The coronavirus pandemic began in China in early 2020 and meanwhile has expanded to the entire world. Israel is not immune and is affected by the virus from February 2020. If you are wondering how is Israel dealing with the coronavirus, this post is for you.

Coronavirus in Israel: The Beginning

The panic began in Israel when a group of Israeli travelers were quarantined on the “Diamond Princess” cruise ship in Japan. When those Israelis came back to Israel, some of them were tested positive for coronavirus and sent to further treatment at Sheba Medical Center. This happened on 23 February. The next case came up on 27 February, when a man who came back from Italy four days beforehand was tested positive as well. That man managed a big toy store in Israel, which quickly became one of the virus outbreak points in Israel.

But even before those cases, Israel cancelled flights from China and other areas which were known as outbreak points. Tourists were not allowed to enter Israel starting late February, but Israelis who came back from abroad were still allowed to enter and were just requested to isolate themselves for 14 days in their homes. The problem was that not everyone who came back from abroad had a car or a lift from the airport, and so many made their way back by public transportation, which might have also helped spread the virus. The self-isolation became a mandatory quarantine from 9 March.

Using Technology to Identify Potential Cases

On 17 March, the Israeli government approved the Shin Bet internal security service to track prior movements of those tested positive for coronavirus through their mobile phones. The Shin Bet used this tracking technology to identify other people, who might have been infected from those who have been diagnosed. People who have been near those diagnosed people received text messages which informed them to stay in self quarantine for 14 days. It might have violated the privacy rights, but had led to over 500 cases which were identified ahead of time.

Social Distancing and Essential Services

In mid-March, the Israeli government started limitations on the public. On 10 March, gatherings were limited to no more than 2,000 people. Later, this turned out to be a mistake, as the Purim celebrations took place on that day and many got infected in the huge parties which took place. A day afterwards, on 11 March, the gatherings were limited to up to 100 people. And then, on 15 March, they were limited to 10 people only. Today – 10 April – only 2 people can gather.  

Schools were closed down starting 12 March, and students began studying through the computer. Synagogues were closed down on 25 March, and people were aske d to pray individually at home. Public transportation was also reduced drastically. On March 25 the government also imposed new restrictions stating that a person can only walk 100 meters from his home unless going to essential services. Essential services such as supermarkets, grocery stores, medical centers, pharmacies and essential workplaces are still open as of now (10 April). On Sunday, 12 April, it will become mandatory to wear a face mask when going outdoors.

On Passover eve, in order to minimize the number of infections, the government ordered a complete curfew. People were not allowed to travel outside of their cities from the afternoon before the holiday until the morning afterwards. On normal days, there would have been thousands of people travelling around to their families’ homes to celebrate Passover. This Passover the roads were almost completely empty.

Protecting the Elder Population

As it seems that the coronavirus harms the elder population the most, people older than 70 years old were advised to stay at home at all times. Public persons called grandsons and granddaughters to not visit their grandparents, and children to not visit their elder parents. “Instead of visiting them, call them every day,” they said.

Many volunteering projects have also started following the pandemic outbreak. One of them, for example, is the “Dor 2 Door” project, which aims to help people of high risk, who cannot leave their homes. The volunteers of this project purchase essential products for the elder population, bring them to their homes and leave them outside their door without making physical contact. This way the elder population does not have to be at any risk.

Screenshot from Dor 2 Door website

The IDF and the Pandemic  

The Israeli government has announced a war on the coronavirus pandemic. That means that the IDF is also involved, especially the HFC. Soldiers were asked to take care of children of essential workers, and were also sent to help in limiting entry to highly infected areas. The first place which was declared a “restricted area” in Israel was the city of Bnei Brak, which had the second highest number of coronavirus cases after Jerusalem. The army has also helped in giving out food products to high risk populations.  

Effects on the Economy

There is an ongoing disagreement between the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Finance. The Ministry of Health call to severe measures for stopping the spreading of the virus and so wish to close as many work places as possible. The Ministry of Finance, on the other hand, says that saving the economy is as important as keeping people healthy. “If people will not die from the virus, they will die from the economical crisis that will come afterwards,” says the Ministry of Finance. That is why the Israeli government has not announced a full closure and essential workers are still working. Still, by 1 April the unemployment rate in Israel had reached over 24 percent! And that does not include the independent workers, who are not obliged of unemployment benefits.

The government announced an economic rescue package totaling 80 billion ILS.  Independent workers were promised two pulses of up to 6,000 ILS, but some were denied this grant following a number of restrictions. This led to a great protest, which resulted in the changing of those restrictions by the government. Before the holiday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also promised 500 ILS per child for each family in Israel.

Bottom line?

Most Israelis are pretty optimistic, try to keep happy and not panic. Almost two months after the coronavirus arrived to Israel, we are standing on about 10,100 diagnosed and 93 dead. The government promised to “loosen the leash” after Passover. Let’s see how this crisis evolves.

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