Israel took unprecedented measures in light of the Coronavirus and announced a 14-day home quarantine for every single person who enters Israel, no matter their country of origin.
The new directive announced on Monday affects everyone entering Israel — both Israelis and foreigners alike — effectively shuttering tourism ahead of the busiest season of the year with both Passover and Easter coming up next month.
The policy went into effect immediately for Israelis and on Thursday for foreigners. This will put some 240,000 Israelis in home quarantine, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri estimated.
For foreigners who still choose to come to Israel despite the new policy, they must guarantee they will complete a two-week quarantine and provide authorities with their location, otherwise they will not be allowed into the country.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was a difficult decision, but that “it is necessary to maintain public health, and public health is above all else. The decision will be in effect for the next two weeks.”
“We have had extensive discussions on the course of action,” Netanyahu said. “We are not talking about closing our gates completely but considering quarantine for anyone coming into the country – Israelis, and foreigners.”
Despite such severe measures to try to contain the virus, Health Department officials expect the situation to deteriorate with tens of thousands of patients potentially being affected by coronavirus in Israel in the coming weeks.
“Unfortunately, the situation is unpreventable. Many of these patients will need to go to the hospital,” Health Ministry director general Prof. Itamar Grotto predicted.
As of Wednesday, Israel had 76 cases of the virus and no deaths.
The Israeli economy, on the other hand, is taking a major hit and the head of Israel’s labor union called it an “economic Yom Kippur.”
“The economy is bleeding, huge companies are on the verge of collapse, layoffs have started,” Arnon Bar-David, Histadrut labor federation chairman, said. “If the government does not wake up, and the prime minister does not start managing the event, working together with the Histadrut and the employers, then we are on the verge of the Yom Kippur of the Israeli economy.”
Tourism is a large portion of the Israeli economy and with no tourists coming in and long scheduled tours being canceled, people in the industry are scrambling for solutions and relief. We just canceled our 250 members GOD TV tour.
“We are working on getting information from hundreds of guides who have had groups and private clients cancel their trips, in order to understand the magnitude of this crisis for tour guides,” said Yoni Shapira, head of Moreshet Derech – Israel Incoming Tour Guide Association.
Israel Hotel Association president Amir Hayek said this could be the industry’s worst crisis ever and estimated the sector will lose $1.7 billion. Occupancy rates have already plummeted to less than 40 percent.
“If immediate government aid is not forthcoming, mass layoffs will begin, and the sector will lose over half of its employees,” he said.
While there has even been a drastic decline — about 20 percent, in the number of Israelis eating out in the past week — home deliveries from supermarkets and fast food chains have increased dramatically with so many people in quarantine.
The Bank of Israel offered one ray of optimism saying that the Israeli economy would bounce back quickly if the virus is controlled in the next few months.
“The banking system is strong, and it is essential that the banks know how to find a balance between responsible credit policy and the financing needs of the economy, particularly in relation to the business sector, with an emphasis on small and mid-sized businesses,” said Amir Yaron, the bank’s governor.