15:53 GMT24 November 2020
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    Coronavirus Outbreak Turns Into Pandemic (233)
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    Israel's PM Benjamin Netanyahu is mulling over shutting down all of the country's educational institutions and considering limiting public transport in another attempt to curb the spread of the virus that has seen more than 140 people infected in the country and with estimates suggesting the number will reach a thousand in just a matter of days.

    "It's a world pandemic that hit all countries. The situation in Israel is relatively good", said the PM on Thursday, vowing to step up measures to prevent the situation from deteriorating.

    In recent weeks Israel has implemented a series of strict measures. Tourists were asked to leave the country, while Israelis who have returned from abroad, no matter the destination, were ordered to quarantine themselves for a period of 14 days. They were instructed to stay indoors, with police setting up special units tracking those who disobeyed.

    If that's not enough, the prime minister has also advised employers to let employees work from home and barred gatherings of more than a hundred people.

    Paralysing Fear

    As a result, panic has gripped many. "I am scared", said Tatyana, a resident of the northern city of Haifa. "I have been working from home for some time but I will need to travel to Tel Aviv and that means taking a train. I have already bought a mask and gloves, there is no way I am stepping on a train without them".

    Early morning trains that are usually packed with people have become mostly empty, traffic jams have vanished, bus drivers have even started sealing off the seats next to them in an attempt to prevent potentially sick people from getting close to them.

    Passengers wear masks to help protect against coronavirus, at the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, March 8, 2020.
    © AP Photo / Ariel Schalit
    Passengers wear masks to help protect against coronavirus, at the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, March 8, 2020.

    Panic has also reared its head in supermarkets across the country. Grocery stores report a significant increase in the purchase of such products as pasta, rice, canned food, tissues, toilet paper, and even bottles of water. The situation becomes more acute towards the weekend with some stores offering their customers nothing but an array of empty shelves.

    "I was trying to order groceries online but most products were out of stock. Home deliveries are also a problem mainly because the waiting lists are too long", explained Tatyana.

    The situation has become so acute that the political stalemate that has been stealing headlines for more than a year now, ceased to interest the masses, with many politicians and celebrities calling on Netanyahu and his main rival ex-chief of staff Benny Gantz to put their differences aside and work towards the establishment of an emergency government.

    Netanyahu has already urged Gantz to step up efforts to establish such a coalition, with reports suggesting the Blue and White is set to meet to mull over the proposal.

    Virus vs. Economy

    The virus, meanwhile, has affected Israel's economy.

    "People around me have already been fired. And I think it is only a matter of time until it gets to me too", complained Tatyana, who is working as a graphic designer for a PR company in Tel Aviv.

    Tatyana is not the only one concerned about the future of her income. Weddings and special events have been called off, stressing out those who rely on them to make a living.

    Restaurants that were once busy are now serving very few customers. Tomer Mor, the CEO of the association that unites Israel's restauranteurs, told the newspaper Israel Hayom businesses have suffered a decline of some 30 percent in income since the outbreak of the virus.

    So has the tourism industry. After Israel barred flights to and from certain destinations, the country's main airport turned into a ghost town. Businesses operating in the venue reported a drop of 70 percent in their sales.

    FIle photo of an EL AL Boeing 777 aircraft at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel (File)
    © REUTERS / Nir Elias
    FIle photo of an EL AL Boeing 777 aircraft at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel (File)

    Israel's national air carrier El Al was also dealt a severe blow. First, it cut down the number of employees, firing a 1,000 of of its 6,000 people, and then it decided to decrease the salaries of its pilots by 20 percent.

    On Sunday, the company is set to cancel most of its flights, leaving a limited number of destinations that will include London, New York, Paris, and Johannesburg. As a result, a hundred hotels across Israel that have already lost hope to host tourists decided to close their doors. Another wave of hotels is expected to follow suit.

    Monetary Injections as a Temporary Solution?

    In an attempt to handle the situation Netanyahu pledged around $3 billion vowing to pump more cash into the economy if the situation continued to deteriorate.

    Over $2 billion is set to help businesses that were hit by the coronavirus. The rest of the money will be split between assistance to the police and the country's medical institutions.

    But here's the catch. This money is just a bandage that might conceal the wound, but won't cure it.

    According to reports, Israel only invests 0.3 percent of its total budget in public health, compared to other OECD countries that inject some 0.5 percent.

    Even before the virus started spreading in Israel, the country's health institutions were struggling to cope with the number of patients. There are only 3.1 doctors per 1,000 people in Israel, compared to 3.5 in other OECD states.

    Samples are tested for respiratory viruses during a visit by Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak
    © REUTERS / POOL
    Samples are tested for respiratory viruses during a visit by Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak

    The problem is that unlike other countries where this number has gone up over the years, in Israel it has continued to plunge. 

    In addition, before the outbreak, the number of hospital beds in Israel stood at more than 3,000 units, with only five percent of them being ICU beds, which are crucial for treating patients with serious issues.

    Now, however, Israel has slightly more than 300 such beds but experts complain this number should be doubled, especially if the number of those infected is expected to rise.

    According to estimates by Israeli doctors, 60,000 people are expected to get the virus over the course of one year and given the fact that so far there has been no breakthrough in the development of a vaccine the future remains bleak for many Israelis.

    "I am sure that what we see now is just the beginning and I don't understand why Israel doesn't do what China and South Korea did - closed down the entire country for two weeks or more. The measures we are currently taking will not solve anything. Nor will they prevent the spread simply because Israelis don't have the discipline that the Chinese have. Here we say 'it will be fine' but it won't if the government doesn't change its policy", Tatyana summed up.
    Topic:
    Coronavirus Outbreak Turns Into Pandemic (233)
    Tags:
    Benny Gantz, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel, coronavirus, COVID-19
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