Israel Goes on Emergency Footing in Coronavirus Crisis

coronavirus israel
Israeli Minister of Internal Affairs Rabbi Aryeh Deri (L) and Minister of Health Rabbi Yaakov Litzman (R) visit medical personell at Ben Gurion Airport, Sunday. (Avshalom Shoshani/Flash90

The Israeli Health Ministry has committed to set up a program aimed at producing a vaccine against the coronavirus which continues to spread across the globe.

Following an emergency meeting with health officials on Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu‏‏ issued a directive to establish a production facility for the vaccine, as well as tasking the National Security Council with overseeing a multi-ministerial effort to cope with the epidemic.

“Our readiness will include all arms of the Israeli administration. Our foremost goal is to postpone the arrival of the virus to Israel. I say ‘postpone,’ because its arrival is unavoidable. We will then identify, treat, isolate and deal with those infected,” PM Netanyahu said.

“Because we estimate that the virus will arrive, we will also deal with the procedures designed to isolate those who have been infected and treat them. This treatment will include isolation for two weeks at home. We will explain to Israelis exactly what is required of them. We have closed land crossings, seaports and airports to arrivals from China; this is temporary. We are also updating the Palestinian Authority on all preventive steps and public health measures that they must take into account here as well.

“We are sharply cutting bureaucracy. On matters that are necessary here to protect the public health, there will be no bureaucracy, and there will be one authority, the head of the National Security Council, who will decide between the various ministries.

“I am making it clear that the State of Israel, as of now, has moved ahead of the world on many things, also in dealing with this issue and we intend to do so on another matter. I have instructed the Biological Institute and the Health Ministry to work on producing a vaccine for the virus and to set up a vaccination network. It could be that on this issue as well, if we work fast enough, with the appropriate budgeting and the talented people we have, the State of Israel will be ahead of the world.”

Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman presented the assembled group with a plan for a vaccine factory.

Rabbi Litzman also addressed Israelis returning from China (the last two direct flights arrived Sunday morning):

“I call all those who returned from China recently to stay in solitary confinement at home,” he said. “We all have a responsibility for the health of the public, and everyone must take part in the struggle to prevent the spread of the virus so as to protect the public’s health.”

Among the arrivals from China on Sunday were employees of the Israeli Embassy there, who promised to stay in isolation for the next two weeks. At noon, new rules came into force prohibiting foreign nationals who had been to China in the past two weeks from entering Israel.

Among those participating in Sunday’s meeting were the ministers of Health, Finance, Justice, Interior, and Transportation and the director generals of their ministries; the head of the National Security Council; the Director of the Biological Institute; the head of the Public Health Service and the head of the Health Ministry Medical Division; the head of the Population Authority; the director general of the Civil Aviation Authority; the director general of MDA; the Finance Ministry Accountant General; representatives from IDF Home Front Command; the IDF Chief Medical Officer; the acting director of the National Emergency Authority and additional representatives from other relevant agencies, as well as from the Health, Foreign Affairs and Defense ministries.

Rabbi Litzman and Interior Minister Rabbi Arye Deri were scheduled on Sunday to inspect the protective measures implemented at Ben Gurion Airport by the Population and Immigration Authority.

While a number of people have undergone tests for the virus, no cases have as yet been confirmed in Israel.

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