Netanyahu Threatens Lockdown If No Improvement in COVID-19 Cases; Virus Spreads Through Ultra-Orthodox Communities; Bennett Seeks To Have Intelligence Services Monitor Israelis for COVID-19 Spread; Bennett Seeks To Have Virus Fight Transferred to IDF, Defense Ministry

Israel’s interim prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, warned that unless there is improvement in the number of reported coronavirus cases, he would have no choice but the order the country into a complete shutdown. During meetings with his ministers to discuss additional steps that could be taken to combat the virus, Netanyahu reportedly told them to make preparations to significantly tighten restrictions on transport. “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,” a statement from his office said. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has pushed back against a lockdown, however, saying the country may see more suicides than deaths from the virus if a lockdown were imposed. “We have to understand the massive distress of those who won’t have enough money to pay their rent — we may have more suicides than deaths from coronavirus,” he said. Instead, Bennett called on the government to work to reopen businesses as quickly as possible. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

COVID-19 also spread rapidly through Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox communities, with Jerusalem and Bnei Brak being the hardest hit. Bnei Brak has almost as many infections as Tel Aviv, a city more than twice its size. Reports indicate that Ultra-Orthodox communities violated the government’s regulations on several occasions, gathering for mass prayers and weddings, which may have facilitated the spread of the virus. Reported by i24 News. Read more…

At the end of March, IDF soldiers began bolstering police units in an effort to impose new restrictions imposed by the government. According to the IDF, some 500 soldiers would assist police “in patrolling, isolating and securing certain areas, blocking routes and additional similar assignments.” Reported by i24 News. Read more…

Then, a week ago, Netanyahu went into quarantine after one of his aides tested positive for COVID-19. Reported by Fox News. Read more… (Ed. note: Netanyahu has since come out of quarantine).

Naftali Bennett, Israel’s defense minister, told Israelis that the country must develop the capacity to become self-reliant in its fight against COVID-19. “The State of Israel must develop independent capabilities in everything related to dealing with the COVID-19 virus pandemic,” Bennett declared. “We cannot remain dependent on procurement from other countries. We must develop independent, advanced capabilities.” He announced that the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Invoytec, an Israeli medical company, will begin manufacturing Israeli developed ventilators. Israel’s health ministry has already accepted delivery of 30 ventilators made by the joint venture between the two Israeli companies and Israeli defense ministry. Reported by i24 News. Read more…

Bennett has also proposed a highly controversial program to have Israeli military intelligence and the controversial intelligence firm NSO Group assist in tracking carriers of COVID-19 in an effort to better predict outbreaks. According to the reports, Bennett has proposed allowing NSO and an elite military intelligence group known as Unit 8200 (similar to the USA’s National Security Agency) to access data gathered by Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, to perform the tracking analysis. Lawmakers voiced opposition to the idea, however, and the idea appeared dead in the water. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

However, a Knesset committee approved the collection of personal date on citizens. This was a controversial measure enacted by the interim government earlier in the month of March to fight the spread of COVID-19. Shin Bet collected the information from cell phones, which is used to track and notify people of potential infection. It is also used by police to enforce quarantines. A subcommittee of the Knesset’s Clandestine Services Subcommittee approved the move after a marathon session. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

The technology may do Israel little good. Hundreds of people have been entering the country from areas hit hard by COVID-19. But they’ve not been tested upon arrival and were not sent for quarantine in hotels set up for that purpose. Although Bennett’s office issued an order that all arrivals from the U.S., Italy, or Spain were to go into quarantine, the order was not carried out. Apparently, during a cabinet meeting with Netanyahu, it was decided to nix Bennett’s plan. As a result, hundreds of passengers from those countries have been able to enter Israel without being tested or quarantined. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Netanyahu later reversed course, ordering that the Health Ministry to enforce regulations requiring new arrivals to Israel be taken to quarantine. He gave the order after it came to light that new arrivals were walking out the doors of Ben Gurion airport without being required to submit to quarantine. Nor were they being tested. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

On April 1, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recommended that all Israelis wear masks when out in public. He suggested that people who do not have masks use an improvised facial covering instead. He also announced new strict limitations on travel in and out of Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox city with one of the highest coronavirus infection rates in the country. The Director-General of the Israeli Health Ministry said that Israelis should not rush out to buy masks but instead leave them for medical professionals. Netanyahu also announced that families would get a stipend of NIS 500 per child, which is about $140 USD. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, who has come under fire for his policy regarding COVID-19, tested positive for the virus last week. It appears the minister broke his own department guidelines by attending group prayer services days before he was diagnosed. Ministers are unhappy with Litzman, with one media report4 stating an unnamed minister accused Litzman of putting “all of our lives in danger.” Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

On April 4, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said that management of the COVID-19 pandemic should be transferred immediately to his office and the IDF. In an interview with Israel’s Channel 12, Bennett characterized the fight against COVID-19 as a “war.” “If we want to cope with this [pandemic], if we want to reopen the Israeli economy, then all responsibility for managing the coronavirus crisis — from A to Z — must be transferred to the IDF and the Defense Ministry as quickly as possible,” Bennett said. Reported by The Times of Israel. Read more…

At the end of March, Israel had confirmed 5,358 cases of COVID-19 and reported 20 deaths. Reported by i24 News. Read more…

As of April 5, 2020, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Israel jumped to 8,018, with 47 fatalities. Reported by i24 News. Read more…