COVID-19 pandemic in Israel
The COVID-19 pandemic in Israel is part of the worldwide pandemic of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The first case in Israel was confirmed on 21 February 2020, when 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.
Beginning on 11 March, Israel began enforcing social distancing and other rules to limit the spread of infection. Gatherings were first restricted to no more than 100 people, and on 15 March this figure was lowered 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. Restrictions on movement were further tightened on 25 March and 1 April, with all individuals instructed to cover their noses and mouths 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. Coinciding with the Passover Seder on the night of 8 April, lawmakers ordered a 3-day travel ban and mandated that Israelis stay within 100 m (330 ft) of their home on the night of the Seder. On 12 April, Haredi neighborhoods in Jerusalem were placed under closure.
On 20 March, an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor in Jerusalem who suffered from previous illnesses was announced as the country's first casualty. Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman and his wife tested positive for the coronavirus on 2 April; Litzman was the first member of the cabinet to be infected.
The pandemic came amid the absence of an official government, as no ruling coalition had been formed following the 2020 Israeli legislative election, the third since the dissolution of the government in December 2018. Netanyahu continued 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.
Timeline[edit source | edit]
First cases[edit source | edit]
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 middle 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.
Government response[edit source | edit]
The government has set a multi-lingual website with information and instructions regarding the pandemic. Among the languages: English, Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, Amharic, French, Spanish, Ukrainian, Romanian, Thai, Chinese, Tigrinya, Hindi, Filipino.
Travel and entry restrictions[edit source | edit]
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 of all travel abroad.
14-day self-isolation[edit source | edit]
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[edit source | edit]
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.
Court freeze[edit source | edit]
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[edit source | edit]
On 15 March, the Israeli government proposed allowing the Israel Security Agency (ISA) 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 people with whom infected individuals came into 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 contact-tracing 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 Supreme Court of Israel heard petitions to halt the contact-tracing program, submitted by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, and Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, and issued an interim order. 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 ISA said contact tracing had led to over 500 Israelis being notified who were then diagnosed with coronavirus. On April 26, 2020, the Supreme Court issued its judgment on the contact-tracing petitions. In granting the petitions, the Court held that the Government's decision passed constitutional review under the exigent circumstances at the time it was made, but that further recourse to the Israel Security Agency for the purpose of contact tracing would require primary legislation in the form of a temporary order that would meet the requirements of the Limitations Clause of Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. The Court further held that due to the fundamental importance of freedom of the press, ISA contact tracing of journalists who tested positive for the virus would require consent, and in the absence of consent, a journalist would undergo an individual epidemiological investigation, and would be asked to inform any sources with whom he was in contact over the 14 days prior to his diagnosis.
On July 1, the Knesset Plenum reauthorized ISA mobile phone tracking of infected individuals by enacting the Law to Authorize the ISA to Assist in the National Effort to Contain the Spread of the Novel Coronavirus (Temporary Provisions) 2020-5780. As ISA location tracking resumed, by July 5, over 30,000 Israelis were ordered into quarantine.
Medical response[edit source | edit]
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 overseas citizens[edit source | edit]
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.
Economic impact[edit source | edit]
Social distancing and closure of public spaces[edit source | edit]
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 of 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".
School closures[edit source | edit]
On 3 May, grades one to three were allowed to resume school, with restrictions, and not in all cities. In addition, grades eleven and twelve were allowed to hold revisions for the upcoming Bagrut exams.
Unemployment[edit source | edit]
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.
Public transportation[edit source | edit]
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[edit source | edit]
On 9 March, after it was discovered that an employee at the Israeli embassy in Greece had contracted coronavirus and spread it to two family members, it was announced that the embassy was temporarily shutting down.
Economic rescue package[edit source | edit]
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[edit source | edit]
Event cancellations[edit source | edit]
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.
Retail[edit source | edit]
Many supermarkets experienced a shortage of eggs caused by panic buying and fear of shutdown.
Religious restrictions[edit source | edit]
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 and after initially ordering his followers to ignore Health Ministry restrictions, leading Haredi posek Chaim Kanievsky eventually issued an unprecedented statement on 29 March instructing Bnei Brak residents not to pray with a minyan at all, but rather individually at home. Despite this, Kanievsky was acccused of secretly arranging public prayers at his house. According to Israeli Ministry of Health statistics, 24% of all coronavirus infections in Israel with known infection 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, so as not to go out into the streets for the traditional burning of the chametz.
Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman and his wife tested positive for the coronavirus on 2 April. News reports later claimed that Litzman had violated the government's ban on participating in group prayer the day before he was diagnosed. His office denied the claims.
Appreciation[edit source | edit]
National state of emergency[edit source | edit]
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.
On 25 March, the government imposed stricter restrictions on citizens' movements. These include:
- 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.
Beginning on April 12, the government required all Israelis to cover their nose and mouth when leaving their homes. Exceptions include "children under age 6; people with emotional, mental or medical conditions that would prevent them from wearing a mask; drivers in their cars; people alone in a building; and two workers who work regularly together, provided they maintain social distancing". The new law was passed on the same day that the World Health Organization questioned the efficacy of face masks for protecting healthy individuals from catching the virus.
Closures of cities and neighborhoods[edit source | edit]
Closure of Bnei Brak[edit source | edit]
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. On 10 April the closure was relaxed to allow residents to leave the city to go to work, attend a funeral of an immediate relative, or for essential medical needs.
Nationwide Passover Seder lockdown[edit source | edit]
Lawmakers enforced a 3-day nationwide lockdown in conjunction with the Passover Seder, which took place in Israel on Wednesday night, April 8. All travel between cities was prohibited from Tuesday evening until Friday evening. From Wednesday at 3 p.m. until Thursday at 7 a.m., all Israelis were prohibited from venturing more than 100 m (330 ft) from their home. The goal of these measures was to prevent the traditional family gatherings associated with the Passover Seder. The lockdown did not apply to Arab towns, where Passover is not observed.
Despite the lockdown, several prominent politicians, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, President of Israel Reuven Rivlin, Yisrael Beiteinu party leader Avigdor Lieberman, Minister of Immigration and Absorption Yoav Galant, and Likud MK Nir Barkat were noted by the Israeli press to have celebrated the Seder or other parts of the festival with relatives who did not live with them.
Closure of Haredi neighborhoods of Jerusalem[edit source | edit]
On April 12, the government imposed a closure on Haredi neighborhoods of Jerusalem, citing Ministry of Health statistics that nearly 75% of that city's coronavirus infections could be traced to these neighborhoods. The closure impacted Mea Shearim, Geula, Bukharim Quarter, Romema, Mekor Baruch, Sanhedria, Neve Yaakov, Ramat Shlomo, and Har Nof. Residents of these neighborhoods were allowed to leave to other areas only to go to work, attend funerals of immediate relatives, and for essential medical needs. The closure was opposed by the Mayor of Jerusalem, Moshe Lion, who reportedly told the government cabinet members: "Take the Ramot neighborhood for example — 60,000 residents and 140 of them sick. Why do we need to close off the whole neighborhood?"
Partial nationwide lockdown[edit source | edit]
A partial nationwide lockdown was again imposed from 14–16 April, preventing Israelis from visiting family in other towns, and Jerusalem residents from leaving their own neighborhoods, in conjunction with the seventh day of Passover and the Mimouna holiday the following evening at the end of Passover.
Ramadan closures[edit source | edit]
Throughout the month of Ramadan, which began on April 25, stores in towns with majority Muslim populations were to be closed from 6 pm until 3 am. Indoor prayer for all religions was banned, while outdoor prayer was allowed for groups up to 19 people, distanced at least 2 m (6 ft 7 in) apart.
Exit strategy[edit source | edit]
Retail[edit source | edit]
On 24 April 2020, the government approved the reopening of street stores and barbershops, effective 26 April 2020. Malls, gyms, and restaurants without delivery services remained closed.
On 7 May 2020, malls and outdoor markets reopened, with restrictions on the number of people allowed. On 27 May 2020, restaurants reopened, with 1.6 meter distancing between diners, and masked staff.
Easing of lockdown[edit source | edit]
On 4 May 2020, Prime Minister Netanyahu outlined a gradual easing of lockdown restrictions, approved by the government. Immediate changes included allowing outdoor meetings of groups not exceeding 20, removal of the 100-meter limit on venturing from homes, and allowing meetings with family members, including elderly. Weddings with up to 50 attendees were also allowed. The easing of restrictions would halt should one of the following occur:
- 100 new daily cases (excluding individuals arriving from abroad, outbreaks in retirement homes, and cases in other current outbreak hotspots)
- the doubling time of infections decreases to 10 days
- the number of patients in serious condition reaches 250
Additional easing of restrictions was announced on 5 May 2020.
On 19 May 2020, the requirement to wear masks outdoors and in schools was lifted for the remainder of the week due to a severe heat wave.
On 20 May 2020, beaches and museums reopened, and restrictions on the number of passengers on buses were relaxed. Houses of prayer reopened to groups of up to 50 people. Attendees were required to wear masks and maintain a distance of two meters.
Reopening schools[edit source | edit]
On 3 May 2020, schools reopened for first to third grade, and 11th to 12th grade. Classes were limited in size, and schoolchildren were required to wear masks. By 17 May 2020, limitations on class size were lifted.
On 10 May 2020, preschools and kindergartens reopened, with limits on the number of children per class, and on a rotating half-week schedule. Nurseries were reopened with a full-week schedule, but allowing only 70% of the children to attend. Priority was given to children of single or working mothers.
On 17 to 19 May 2020, schools reopened fully, with certain social distancing rules in place, including staggered recesses and maintaining 2 meters distance between pupils during breaks. Children arriving at school were required to present a health statement signed by their parents.
A number of schools were shut down after reopening due to cases among staff members or students.
Second period of restrictions[edit source | edit]
On 6 July 2020, following over two weeks of continued increase in the number of new daily cases, Netanyahu announced new social distancing guidelines, approved by the government. These included:
- Restriction of social gatherings to 20 people
- Limiting the number of synagogue worshippers to 19 people
- Closure of gyms, night clubs, culture venues, and event halls
- Limiting the number of people on public buses to 20
- Limiting the number of restaurant guests to 20 indoors, or 30 for restaurants with outdoor seating
- Closure of all studios and gyms, except for those used by professional athletes
- No sitting in bars or restaurants (delivery service and take-away allowed)
- Weekend lockdown of non-essential businesses from 5:00pm Friday until 5:00am Sunday (supermarkets and pharmacies not included)
- Closure of beaches during weekend lockdown, starting 24 July 2020
- Gatherings limited to 20 people outdoors, and 10 people indoors
Relations with neighbouring countries and territories[edit source | edit]
Palestinian Authority[edit source | edit]
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 their 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 19 May, an unmarked Etihad Airways plane marked the first direct flight between the United Arab Emirates and Israel. Its goal was to deliver supplies to the West Bank. The aid was rejected by the West Bank, so it was delivered to Gaza instead.
Egypt[edit source | edit]
On 8 March, Israel closed down the Taba Border Crossing with Egypt, 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.
Jordan[edit source | edit]
While Israel had not placed restrictions on its Jordanian border crossings, the Jordanian Kingdom decided to close its border with Israel as well as all other neighbouring countries beginning from March 11.
On April 15, the Jerusalem Post reported that Israel was to provide 5,000 medical protection masks to Jordan to fight coronavirus outbreak, with the IDF overseeing the delivery.
Statistics[edit source | edit]
Graphs[edit source | edit]
Data is updated by MOH at 09:00 and 21:00 (IST) every day.
Data is according to MOH update at 08:00 (IST) every day.
See also[edit source | edit]
References[edit source | edit]
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to COVID-19 pandemic in Israel.|
- Coronavirus. Israel's government website
- The Novel Coronavirus. Israel Ministry of Health
- COVID-19. Israel Ministry of Health
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