Netanyahu, Top Officials Enter Quarantine after Health Minister Contracts Coronavirus
Israel’s health minister, Yakov Litzman, has tested positive for the coronavirus as the country’s confirmed number of cases of COVID-19 – the respiratory illness caused by the pathogen – surged to over 6,300. Thirty-three people have died. It comes as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Wednesday emerged from a 48-hour period of self-isolation – a precautionary measure taken after he came in contact with a carrier of the virus two weeks ago. According to reports, Netanyahu, who met regularly with Litzman throughout the crisis, on Thursday again entered quarantine along with the heads of the Mossad and National Security Council, in addition to the director-general of the Health Ministry. In a televised address late Wednesday night, Netanyahu announced a near-total closure of Bnei Brak, a densely populated city located just east of Tel Aviv comprised mainly of ultra-Orthodox, or haredi, Jews. The community, in addition to other haredi enclaves in Jerusalem and its environs, has been especially hard-hit by the outbreak. Overall, many have accused haredi leaders of failing to convey to their adherents the severity of the current situation and, as a corollary, the imperative of following strict government guidelines such as social distancing and not praying in the standard quorum of at least 10 men. Netanyahu also called on Israelis to begin wearing masks whenever leaving their homes. Presently, individuals are only allowed to do so to respond to emergencies; purchase essential goods; attend small family functions; or perform what is deemed critical work. Short periods of solo outdoor physical activity within 100 meters of one’s residence are also permitted. Netanyahu also announced that the government would make a one-time 500-shekel (about $140) payment per child (up to four children) to families, and one-time 500-shekel payments to senior citizens, as well.