Benjamin Netanyahu.(Flash90) Flash90
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Netanyahu said Israeli schools and universities will be shuttered to stop the coronavirus and reached out to political rival Benny Gantz to form a unity government.

By World Israel News Staff

On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Israel is closing its schools and universities in an effort to prevent coronavirus contagion.

While Netanyahu excluded kindergartens, boarding schools, and special education institutions from the closures announced on Thursday, he noted that a forthcoming decision on those institutions would also be announced.

Netanyahu described the coronavirus pandemic as a “global event” that is “unlike anything else” that has occurred since the State of Israel was established.

While no one in Israel has died from the disease, the prime minister told the nation to brace for potentially “large numbers” of casualties from the virus, which has infected 109 people in Israel so far.

Israel also issued a ban on Thursday on the entry of any non-nationals incapable of self-quarantine, all but ending the nation’s generally robust incoming tourism industry.

Netanyahu’s announcement arrives a day after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus a pandemic and urged aggressive action from all countries to fight it, as U.S. stocks plunged into bear market territory and several American cities joined global counterparts in banning large gatherings.

“We have called every day for countries to take urgent and aggressive action. We have rung the alarm bell loud and clear,” WHO’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday.

“All countries can still change the course of this pandemic. If countries detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilize their people in the response,” he said.

While Italy exceeds 12,000 cases and the United States has topped 1,300, China reported a record low of just 15 new cases Thursday and three-fourths of its infected patients have recovered.

China’s totals of 80,793 cases and 3,169 deaths are a shrinking portion of the world’s more than 126,000 infections and 4,600 deaths.

“If you want to be blunt, Europe is the new China,” said Robert Redfield, the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Emergency Unity Government?

Netanyahu on Thursday also called for the formation of an emergency government to confront a growing crisis over the coronavirus, offering a potential way out of the deadlock that has paralyzed the political system for the past year.

Netanyahu made the offer in a nationally televised address, telling the nation that the virus does “not differentiate” between Jews and non-Jews or between the political left and right.

“I call for the formation now, even this evening, of a national emergency government,” he said.

“It will be an emergency government for a limited period. Together we will fight to save the lives of citizens,” he added, saying that politics should be put aside.

Citing the urgent health crisis, Gantz appeared to be open to a compromise with Netanyahu earlier Thursday.

“Blue and White, under my leadership, will support every appropriate measure, putting aside political considerations entirely, at this complex and sensitive time,” he said.

The conciliatory language marked a sharp change after months of acrimonious campaigning and heightened rhetoric in the wake of another inconclusive election earlier this month.

Israel has been relatively insulated from the coronavirus scare, with just over 100 cases diagnosed so far. But the numbers have begun to creep upward in recent days.

Israel has imposed a number of tough restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, placing tens of thousands of people into protective home quarantine, ordering all Israelis who return from overseas into quarantine and barring almost all tourists from entering the country.

This month’s election was Israel’s third to end in deadlock in the past year.