Photo Credit: Haim Zach / GPO
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman at Health Ministry in Jerusalem speak to reporters about coronavirus outbreak on March 4 2020

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the proverbial bull by the horns on Wednesday in a news briefing held at the Health Ministry in Jerusalem, and told reporters bluntly, “We are in a global pandemic. They do not call it this but this is the truth and it needs to be said.”

The briefing was held after Netanyahu held a discussion with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and a host of other top officials on continued preparations to deal with the growing spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus in Israel.

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The head of the National Security Council, the Acting Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office, the Director General of the Health Ministry, the Director General of the Population and Migration Authority, the Director General of Magen David Adom and other senior officials were also present at the discussion.

Following is a transcript of the prime minister’s remarks:

“Together with the Health Minister and the professional team, I have just completed another discussion on our handling of the corona crisis. I say ‘crisis’ but it must be understood that we are in the midst of a global pandemic. They do not call it this but this is the truth and it needs to be said.

“It could be that it is among the most dangerous of such pandemics in the past 100 years. But Israel is in the best situation of all other countries, together with another two or three Western countries.

“We are in a better situation because at the outset I ordered a policy of over-preparation and not under-preparation. We were compelled to take harsh – even very harsh – measures in order to slow the pace of the spread of the disease in Israel, and indeed this has happened.

“We also undertook a policy of extensive quarantine and extensive checks, which many countries have not done. We were also compelled to take steps regarding flights and those returning from abroad.

I would like to give you one important example; this example is Italy. In Italy, a very advanced country, the pace of the spread is very great, and I must say that there is a 4-5 percent mortality rate there, and the incidence of severe cases is about 10 percent.

“This is Italy, an advanced western country. When we instructed that everyone returning from Italy enter self-quarantine for 14 days, we expected these things.

“Today, we will take additional such steps, dozens of steps and more. For example, all Israelis returning from certain countries – France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Austria – are required to enter self-quarantine for 14 days. There are also other measures that we will announce shortly.

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“I would like to make it clear that we are in complete control of the event especially due to the great caution we are using and the steps that will be detailed today, and also due to you, the citizens of Israel.

“All in all, the citizens of Israel are very disciplined and are following our instructions. You also see that we took exceptional measures, such as separate polling places, to isolate the virus from the general population, to the best of our ability. We will require yet more from you.

“I will give one example and it is important. Very great care must be taken regarding personal hygiene. This means doing something that is contrary to our character, contrary to human nature and contrary to our nature as a society and a nation – to refrain from shaking hands.

“I take it upon myself to be the first to tell you to simply refrain from shaking hands, as I am doing. There is no choice. You can adopt the Indian practice; you can say ‘Namaste’, or you can say ‘Shalom’. But find the way, any way, to avoid shaking hands and other things that will be asked of you here at the Health Ministry.

“I would like to say that the staff here has been doing exceptional work. As you can see, we are also working in all sectors of our society and across the economy. While the effort is being concentrated in the Health Ministry, all ministries, branches of the government and also MDA are doing exceptional work.

“If we continue to do as we have been, which we will do every day and every hour, to prepare properly, over-preparation, we will be able to deal with this crisis successfully as we are doing at the moment better than almost any other country.”

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.