Netanyahu tests negative as Government sets new restrictions

What happened: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tested negative for coronavirus after placing himself in isolation when one of his senior advisors contracted covid-19. Israel now has a total of 4831 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 18 people have died, 83 people are still in a serious condition, with 69 on ventilators.

  • The Government yesterday announced new restrictions on personal movement to contain the outbreak. Israelis will be permitted to leave home either individually or in small groups from the immediate family for brief outings no further than 100m from home. No groups are permitted to gather in public, including for purposes of worship or wedding celebrations. Funerals are to be held only in open spaces and can be attended by no more than 20 people. Circumcisions can be attended by no more than ten people. Delivery services will continue to operate. The government also approved new restrictions on commercial activity. No more than ten people or 15% of the workforce are permitted to be present at each workplace.
  • The cabinet approved the deployment of  600 IDF soldiers to help the police enforce the restrictions on public movement.
  • The economic aid package is to be expanded to NIS 80 billion (£18.2bn), NIS 11 billion will be allocated to healthcare, NIS 40 billion to the commercial sector, NIS 20 billion to expand the social safety net and to provide relief for households; and NIS 8 billion for an economic stimulus plan.
  • In the West Bank there are 107 confirmed cases. In Gaza, ten cases have been confirmed, eight of whom caught it from the first two after returning from Pakistan. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh has ordered stricter measures to prevent Palestinians travelling in the West Bank, setting up roadblocks. There is concern that West Bank hospitals only have 205 ventilators to serve a population of 2.5 million people.
  • In a coordinated move with Israeli security, last night armed Palestinian Authority security forces enforced the lockdown in East Jerusalem neighbourhoods beyond the security barrier.
  • The Egyptian health minister said there were 47 new cases and one more death. The total number of confirmed cases now stands at 656, with 41 deaths. Some villages have been isolated and a nationwide curfew remains in effect daily from 1900 to 0600 until April 7.
  • In Lebanon, the public health ministry said there are now 446 cases with 8 new cases reported yesterday, 11 people have died so far.  According to Al Jazeera, Lebanese hospitals have been turning away undocumented people or setting prohibitively high costs for coronavirus testing. This includes migrant workers as well as many of the 1.5 million refugees in the country.
  • Syria has recorded its first death from COVID-19. A woman died on Sunday after being taken to hospital, state media reported, without giving a location. Ten other people tested positive for COVID-19 but medics suspect there are many more. The UN humanitarian chief has warned that the confirmed cases in Syria are just “the tip of the iceberg”. Mark Lowcock told the UN Security Council on Monday that “all efforts to prevent, detect and respond to COVID-19 are impeded by Syria’s fragile health system.” Only around half of the country’s hospitals and primary health care facilities were fully functional at the end of 2019.
  • Saudi Arabia has registered eight deaths among 1,453 infections, the highest among the six Gulf states. Yesterday, the Saudi Health Minister announced that the state will fund treatment for residents infected with the coronavirus, while the agriculture ministry is preparing steps to boost wheat and livestock supplies amid global fears of a food shortage. Saudi Arabia has taken drastic steps to contain the outbreak, halting international flights, closing most public places, and imposing a partial curfew.
  • The UAE on Monday announced 41 new cases of COVID-19, raising the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 611, with five deaths. Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, has asked the authorities to set up several mobile COVID-19 test centres across the country.
  • In Iran, dozens of inmates escaped prison over the weekend as riots broke out in several sites. Yesterday Iran’s Health Ministry downplayed the severity of the outbreak in the country, claiming that Iran has a similar level of coronavirus as France, with around 2,600 deaths. However, many Iranians and some officials have said the official figures are false. The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), who says is getting its reports from internal sources and medical staff, believe that there has been over 13,000 deaths in 231 cities. The Iranian regime has banned intercity travel after many Iranians defied the calls to cancel travel plans for the Persian New Year holidays that began on March 20.
  • Turkey has confirmed 9,217 cases of coronavirus, reportedly reaching that number more quickly than any other country in the world. By Sunday, the number of confirmed cases in the country rose by 1,815, with the number of deaths increasing by 23 to 131. Turkey has carried out 65,446 coronavirus tests since the outbreak began.

Context: Israel enforced a partial lockdown relatively early, compared to other countries. Schools were closed more than two weeks ago and strict limits placed on businesses.

  • According to Channel 12 News there is some positive data suggesting the rate of infection started to slow down at the end of last week.
  • Officials are still extremely concerned about how fast the virus is spreading in sectors where the public is less compliant. In the ultra-Orthodox community there have been numerous cases of large public gatherings and in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak 34% of residents tested are confirmed to have coronavirus in comparison with 6% in Tel Aviv and 10% in Jerusalem.