Israel is leading much of the world in taking the most drastic steps to prevent uncontrolled outbreaks of COVID-19 within its borders.
Two Week Quarantine for All Entering Israel
Israeli authorities are taking drastic steps to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus within Israel including a mandatory two-week quarantine for anyone entering Israel.
“This is a difficult decision but it is essential to maintaining public health, which takes precedence over everything,” said Israeli Prime Minister in a video message.
Hours after the updated quarantine was declared on Monday, Israel’s Health Ministry announced that eight more Israelis tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases in Israel to fifty. To keep that number down, anyone entering Israel must spend two weeks in home quarantine. If non-citizen travelers cannot prove that they have a place to quarantine, they will not be allowed entry into the country.
“We know that the economic impact is dramatic, but health comes above all else,” said Israel’s Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov.
For tourists and others already inside Israel, the quarantine is not retroactive, but they are still being asked to leave and will be given a few days to organize their flights back home. Bar Siman Tov said he understands the massive impact this decision has, but also explained the necessity to stem the spread of the virus early and to avoid ending up like Italy where the entire nation has been placed under localized quarantine.
Israeli cases amount to a small percentage of the global 113,582 infections. Of those, 62,503 had recovered and 3,996 died as of March 9. Israeli authorities are determined to keep their rate of infection low by taking drastic measures. Besides the mandatory two-week quarantine for anyone entering the country, Israel has already quarantined hundreds of citizens who likely encountered the existing cases. In total, the Health Ministry says that 3,953 students and teachers in quarantine. The Jerusalem Post reports that the nation’s internal quarantine also includes 2,100 IDF soldiers, including a battalion commander who may have been exposed to the virus. On Friday, the IDF also announced that for the time being, no IDF soldier would be allowed to leave Israel.
The strict rationale behind the IDF quarantine is to protect the IDF’s operational readiness, according to the IDF Chief of Staff. While the army continues to provide security for Israel, Netanyahu is mobilizing the nation’s teens and young people to help sanitize public places such as train stations with bleach, since the virus seems to affect youth the least.
Israel is also helping Palestinians contain the spread of the virus with sanitation and quarantining. At least a dozen cases have been confirmed in Bethlehem and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared a thirty-day “state of emergency” to prevent further infection. That includes the closure of all churches, mosques, and educational institutions in Bethlehem until further notice.
While places of religion and some of the world’s most popular pilgrimage locations are being impacted, many Jews are turning to their faith to confront the threat to Israel. The Yeshiva World reports that a group of Mekubalim, followers of a Kabbalistic sect of Jewry, flew in a plane around Israel for several hours blowing a shofar and reciting prayers to bring an end to the virus. The practice may seem odd, but seventy years ago, another group performed the same maneuver as Nazi forces closed in on Israel’s borders. After the flight, the Rav Fetaya declared that the decree against the residents of Israel was annulled and shortly after, the Nazis were turned back by British forces.
New Quarantine Takes Heavy Economic Toll
The fear and uncertainty of COVID-19’s impact on global trade and commerce is sending economies tumbling, and Israel is no exception.
Israel’s decision to quarantine all incoming travelers is the most drastic step by far to stem the infection rate of the virus and cuts deeply into tourism, one of the most lucrative sectors of Israel’s economy. On the front lines of the economic drop are the airlines. Israel’s smaller airlines, such as Arkia and Israir, are reeling from the news and see it as a “death blow” as described by one investor. Israir is planning to cancel all international flights within a week along with Arkia which is also sending some 180 employees on a non-paid vacation. Israel’s largest airline, El Al, said it would continue flying to the United States, Europe, and Africa due to a feeling of "national responsibility” but that flights would operate according to customer demand.
Still, they’re advising all Israelis out of the country to return home while they still can. One small relief is that customers who had tickets to travel during March are able to delay or freeze their flight tickets until the end of February 2021, without additional charges, according to the Jerusalem Post.
But the airlines are only the tip of the iceberg in Israel’s tourism-centric economy. Globes, an Israeli economic newspaper, reports that Israel’s hotels are on the “brink of collapse.” Hotel Association president Amir Hayek warns of the worst crisis ever in the Israeli hotel industry, and says that without direct government intervention, mass layoffs will begin, and the sector will lose over half of its employees. The hotel industry in Israel has already lost more than a billion dollars, and heavier losses are inevitable.
"The sector, which provides the state with billions a year in revenue, is on a precipice. It is time for the state to exercise responsibility towards Israel's economy, not just towards its citizens, and to realize that without immediate oxygen in the form of a NIS 500 million in aid, this patient will die," Hayek said.
Facing the crisis head-on is the Bank of Israel. On Monday, it issued a statement to address the economic plunge and attempted to calm fears of a devastating impact on the economy by saying it expects the outbreak to cause a loss of only 0.7 percent to Israel’s growth and a resolution to the crisis by July, according to the Times of Israel.
That assessment is based off the assumed success of Israel’s containment strategies, which project that only some 150,000 Israelis will be confined to quarantine and that tourism, aviation, and some other activities will be mostly shut down. Once controlled, however, the Bank of Israel excepts a rapid economic rebound.