JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday lockdown orders would be issued unless people stepped up compliance with guidelines urging them to stay at home to help halt the spread of the coronavirus.
“Yesterday we gave clear instructions … asking people to stay at home as much as they can and to go outside only when it’s vital, for food supplies and other such needs we specified,” he said in an interview with Israeli Channel 12 TV.
But, Netanyahu said, some members of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community and “part of the minorities” – a reference to its Arab citizens – have not taken in the message.
“If the message is not understood, then I will not hesitate to impose an order,” said Netanyahu, who has been accused by political leaders of Israel’s 21 percent Arab minority of racist attitudes towards it.
He gave no details on the extent of any lockdown and said he would address the issue further in public remarks on Thursday.
A lockdown, enforced by police under government order, would put further strain on the Israeli economy, The government has already announced a 15 billion shekel ($4 billion) aid package to help businesses damaged by the coronavirus crisis and boost health services.
Confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel have jumped by 40% to 427 in the past 24 hours, authorities said on Wednesday, predicting a steeper rise as mass testing is implemented, and a blanket ban on entry of foreign nationals was imposed.
In the interview, Netanyahu cited instances in which large weddings were held by the ultra-Orthodox community while some religious schools remained open despite a national closure of educational institutions.
The Health Ministry has limited gatherings to no more than 10 people. Beaches, parks, shopping malls and theaters have been closed and many businesses have reduced staff. Restaurants have shifted to delivery-only operations and public transport has been cut back. Supermarkets remain open.
Netanyahu said testing for coronavirus infection would be stepped up, with 3,000 tests administered daily, which will rise to 10,000 a day within two weeks.
No fatalities from the coronavirus have been reported in Israel or in the Palestinian territories to date.
But Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, the Israeli Health Ministry’s director-general, told Army Radio that he expected there would be “many hundreds of new patients each day, and possibly more”.
In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the Palestinian Authority announced tighter restrictions on the movements of Palestinians, saying no one could enter or leave the biblical town of Bethlehem and its residents must remain indoors.
Palestinian health officials have confirmed 44 cases of coronavirus infection. None has been detected in the Gaza Strip, where Israel and Egypt enforce tight border restrictions.