PM Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a press conference on COVID-19 at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem, March 4, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90) (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Benjamin Netanyahu

Plan includes mobilizing young people to disinfect public spaces, developing new “industrial” testing methods and introducing financial measures to help businesses weather the outbreak.

By  Yehuda Shlezinger and Shimon Yaish, Israel Hayom via JNS

Eight more Israelis contracted SARS-CoV-2 (coronavirus) over the weekend, bringing the total number to 25, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared it the worst pandemic in 100 years.

Israel’s Health Ministry reported that patients 17 through 25 are in quarantine and in stable condition.

COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, hit a milestone Friday, with more than 100,000 confirmed cases worldwide. It has killed nearly 3,400 people.

Netanyahu said Israel was “acting on both the national and international levels” to combat the disease, and that in the past 48 hours he had spoken with world leaders and initiated a conference call with other countries that will be held next week to see how world leaders can help each other.

“First of all, this is a global pandemic, whether the CDC [the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] calls it such or not. It is a matter of days or hours [before it’s officially classified as a pandemic]. It is doubtful whether there has been a similar pandemic in the last 100 years. It seems that the rate of infection is greater than we figured,” said the prime minister.

“The assumption that the virus will disappear or evaporate in hot weather is unproven. At the moment, this has no basis that we can build on. The virus is currently spreading to Africa. There is no vaccine and antiviral drugs are ineffective. Economies are starting to be hurt. Governments are ordering their gates closed. This is important for the supply of products for all economies. Nobody knows how the pandemic will end,” he added.

Netanyahu rolled out a five-part plan for stemming the spread of the virus in Israel.

First, all public installations will undergo disinfection, the prime minister said.

“This virus is sensitive to bleach and we must act in an orderly way to disinfect railway stations, bus stations, etc.,” he said. “To this end, over the vacation period, which may be extended, I will mobilize young people, both in schools and in youth movements, in a very meticulous way, to help with the disinfection. I will also ask the IDF to take care of certain installations,” he said.

The prime minister said that the virus does not appear to be affecting youths and children.

While it is true that relatively few children have contracted SARS-CoV-2, and that those that have seem to experience milder symptoms than adults, the reasons for this are not yet clear. One of Israel’s 25 confirmed COVID-19 cases is a 9th-grade student.

Next, he said, the Israel Air Force may be used to ensure Israel has all essential supplies.

Third, he said, he is working on opening a line of credit to provide a response for businesses and companies under pressure.

“Fourth, we will mobilize the best minds in Israel in order to develop a broad test in order to ensure an industrial testing ability that will separate between ill and healthy people,” he said.

‘With God’s Help, We Will Overcome This Crisis Together’

Finally, Netanyahu said Israel was likely better off than any other country as far as fighting the virus was concerned, and that he would push for intensified international cooperation. He said Israel will use its ties with leaders in certain countries: “We will help them and they will help us,” he said. “With God’s help, we will overcome the crisis together.”

Meanwhile, some 1,262 IDF soldiers are currently under 14-day home quarantine for suspicion of exposure to the virus, the army reported on Friday. Some 189 soldiers have already returned to their units after completing the mandatory two weeks of self-isolation.

According to the IDF, most of the soldiers currently under quarantine had returned from vacation overseas, while some had come into contact with confirmed carriers of the virus in Israel.

The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry has reported that 19 Palestinians have been infected with the virus, most likely via interaction with a group of Greek pilgrims who visited Bethlehem and neighboring Beit Jala. The city is on lockdown and the P.A. is reportedly working with Israel to contain the virus.