Netanyahu Asks Israelis Not to Shake Hands, Large Gatherings Banned

netanyahu shake hands
Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu (R) and Director General of the Health Ministry Moshe Bar Siman Tov demonstrate how not to shake hands, a press conference Wednesday at the Ministry of Health in Yerushalayim. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu‏‏ on Wednesday asked Israelis to refrain from shaking hands for the duration of the coronavirus epidemic.

It was one of the milder measures announced on a day that saw thousands more ordered into quarantine and a ban on large public gatherings.

He made the suggestion — it’s not a ban — at a press conference to update the public on dramatic new measures being taken to protect against spread of the virus. “We have to understand, we are in the midst of a global epidemic,” Netanyahu said, calling it “the most dangerous of these epidemics in the last 100 years.”

The Health Ministry has added Spain, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and France to the list of countries which Israelis have just visited who must self-quarantine upon arriving back in the country. Tourists who have been to Iran, Iraq, Syria or Lebanon in the 14 days before their arrival in Israel will not be allowed in the country.

As of now, the estimated number of all those in isolation due to the virus may be as much 100,000 people, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Ministry officials reiterated their warning that non-essential travel to countries where the virus has struck should be avoided. “Older people, over the age of 60, or people who have preexisting conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease or respiratory illness, are advised to take extreme care. The risk for children under the age of 18 is actually lower.”

Health Minister Rabbi Yaakov Litzman also announced a ban on public events and assemblies of more than 5,000 people. Large concerts and sports events were being canceled as a result.

The cities of Holon, Ramat HaSharon, Givatayim, Herzliya, Modiin-Maccabim Reut and Carmiel said they would cancel their Purim events.


“We will not allow international conferences in Israel,” he added. “This is an international crisis. There are countries that are working taking various steps, and there are countries that haven’t yet internalized the severity of the situation,” he noted, anticipating critics who have charged the ministry with overreacting.

The Ministry announced the following recommendations, as well: a general recommendation to the public to vigilantly maintain hygienic practices; a recommendation to the Civil Service commissioner to curtail all civil service members from travel abroad; that people over the age of 60 and those with chronic health conditions (including immune disorders, diabetes, heart disease and the like) to avoid crowds and meetings with people who’ve recently been abroad, or who show symptoms of illness.

The marathon was scheduled for March 20, with tens of thousands of people due to participate, including some 5,000 runners from abroad.

“The Yerushalayim Municipality announces that it is thoroughly examining the Health Ministry’s directives and will publish the consequences that it will have on the marathon shortly,” a spokesperson for the marathon said.

The director general of the Health Ministry, Moshe Bar Siman Tov, said the rapid global spread of the coronavirus vindicates Israel’s “overly cautious” policy, more stringent than other countries.

“They said we were exaggerating. They said we were hysterical. If we hadn’t closed [Israel to arrivals from] Italy a few days ago, we’d be in the grip of a mass infection today.”

One incident on Wednesday illustrated the practical impossibility of stopping the contagion in Israel completely, however.

Hezki Baruch, a reporter for Israel National News (Arutz Sheva), returned from France a few days ago, and was not informed of the latest directive for self-quarantine of arrivals from that country before he attended a meeting on Wednesday evening, of right-wing parties, including Netanyahu, Ynet said. He arrived at the Knesset for the meeting at 5 p.m., a half hour after the directive was made public.

There were approximately some 150 people at the gathering.

The 10th bi-annual Juniper Cobra joint missile defense exercise of the IDF and the United States Europe Command (EUCOM) was suspended on Wednesday amid fears of the coronavirus.

It had been planned to proceed even after a separate U.S.-Israel exercise, “Eagle Genesis,” to be held in Italy, was cancelled.

Juniper Cobra was scheduled for March 3-10 with over 2,500 U.S. troops participating in several different locations – in Israel, Europe and the United States, in coordination with about 1,000 Israeli Aerial Defense troops, logistics units, medical forces, and additional IDF units.

In the evening, IDF chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi postponed a trip to the United States next week due to the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The move came as the Civil Service Commission banned all work trips abroad for civil servants.

The IDF did not specify a new date for the visit.

Updated Wednesday, March 4, 2020 at 4:03 pm update

Updated Wednesday, March 4, 2020 at 4:40 pm IDF exercise