11:56 GMT09 May 2021
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    On Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointed out that the country is currently grappling with "a major outbreak" of COVID-19, underscoring the need to return to a national lockdown so as to tackle a spike in coronavirus cases.

    Israeli police spokesman Michael Zingerman on Saturday confirmed that Israeli border police commander Yaakov "Kobi" Shabtai has been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

    “Shabtai remains in stable condition as the police are looking into who had recently contacted him”, Zingerman said, adding that a decision on who should be quarantined would be taken after the end of the probe.

    The statement followed the newspaper The Times of Israel reporting that Shabtai’s diagnosis came after he took part in Thursday’s memorial event attended by the Jewish state’s senior officials.

    The ceremony at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl paid tribute to the sixth anniversary of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, an event that saw the attendance of President Reuven Rivlin, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, Defence Minister Benny Gantz, and Israel Defence Force (IDF) Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi.

    Israeli President Reuven Rivlin
    © AFP 2021 / JOHN THYS
    Israeli President Reuven Rivlin

    The developments come after Israeli public broadcaster KAN cited unnamed military source as saying on Friday that the IDF is mulling cancelling planned training for reserve soldiers as coronavirus cases continue to increase.

    “It will be difficult to bring together a 500-member battalion from across the country and let them stay together”, the source said, adding that options include keeping the soldiers in a so-called “capsule” system of limited groups.

    The remarks were preceded by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu writing on his Facebook page earlier on Friday that “we are now dealing with a major outbreak of the coronavirus in Israel”.

    “At the start of the week we were with a figure of 450 infected and today we’re at nearly 1,000 infected a day”, he added.

    This echoed Netanyahu’s statement during a press conference on Thursday, when he admitted that “the virus is still here, in a big way”.

    The PM also underscored that “the battle will take time” and that Israel needs “to return to restrictive policies in order to flatten the curve”.

    Late last month, Netanyahu warned that if Israelis “don’t immediately change” their behaviour “regarding wearing [face] masks and keeping distance, we will bring upon ourselves, against our will, a return to lockdown”, adding that “none of us wants this”.

    Israel introduced tight coronavirus lockdown restrictions following the country’s first confirmed case in February before starting to ease confinement measures in mid-April.

    As of Friday, Israel had registered 10,060 COVID-19 cases, with 326 fatalities, according to the country’s Health Ministry.


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    lockdown, COVID-19, coronavirus, event, police, Reuven Rivlin, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel
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