By Benjamin Brown • 23 February, 2020
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, as well as several other ministers and officials, convened for a special assessment on the coronavirus threat on Sunday, a government statement read.
Netanyahu revealed that the government is holding daily assessments to deal with the threat of coronavirus. “We are constantly evaluating and adjusting our policy, and adapting it to developing circumstances,” the Prime Minister said, adding that “over-preparation is preferable to under-preparation” and vowing to “do whatever is necessary to prevent the spread of the virus in Israel.”
He also announced that Australia and Italy would be added to the list of countries with entry restrictions, joining Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, and China. Foreigners who have traveled to any of the listed countries within the past 14 days will be prohibited from entering Israel, whereas Israeli residents will be forced to undergo a 14-day home quarantine.
Netanyahu further announced the opening of a national situation room, set to be chaired by the head of the National Security Council (NSC), to coordinate Israel’s response to the virus.
The government is also concerned by possible false reports on the coronavirus influencing the elections. “There could be all kinds of elements, including foreign elements, which could interfere in the elections this way. We have an interest in stopping this,” Netanyahu said, announcing his plans to involve the Israeli Police as well the Israeli Security Agency (commonly known as the Shin Bet) in countering the threat.
Following the news of a group of South Korean tourists diagnosed with coronavirus shortly after returning home from Israel, the Prime Minister stated that the decision had been reached “to quickly locate all persons suspected of having been in contact with those carrying the virus and voluntarily isolate them or return them to their countries,” as well as deciding to “gradually reduce flights from places with the Coronavirus.”
Israel currently has the harshest entry limits internationally over coronavirus fears and has received diplomatic pressure over its decision, with the Thai government requesting Israel “reconsider” its ban on Thai residents entering the country and the South Korean government issuing a formal complaint to Israel after passengers on a South Korean plane were refused to disembark, with the plane instead refueling and returning to South Korea.
Meanwhile, Israel is set to quarantine 200 South Korean tourists who are currently in the country, according to media reports. Locals are currently demonstrating the decision to use the Har Gilo military base near Jerusalem with residents taking to the streets, erecting burning blockades and holding signs protesting against the government’s decision.