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March 13, 2020 12:58 pm

Netanyahu Seeks to Reassure Israelis Amid Coronavirus Crisis: ‘No Reason to Storm Supermarkets’

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Abir Sultan / Pool via Reuters / File.

Following consultations with top government officials on Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to reassure Israelis amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak that has largely shut down the country.

“You have no reason to storm supermarkets,” Netanyahu said. “There will be enough food in general and for the (upcoming Passover) holiday. Have a good Shabbat, with much health.”

“We are holding discussions and making decisions around the clock, including this morning and this afternoon, a large discussion but with at least a meter separating between us, and two meters where possible,” he stated. “On Sunday, we will hold the Cabinet meeting via video conference in order to maintain the distance. We are being an example to citizens and we hope that each one of you acts accordingly.”

“We are investing considerable means right now to increase the pace of testing, to reduce the infection rate and — of course — to reinforce, strengthen and safeguard the medical teams, as well as many other things,” Netanyahu added.

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Netanyahu’s comments came a day after he ordered the closure of schools across Israel and called for the establishment of an emergency national unity government. He later spoke by phone with his top political rival, Benny Gantz, about the matter.

On Friday, Gantz — the head of the centrist Blue and White party — said the formation of such a government was “the right thing for the State of Israel at this time,” but that he was waiting for a “serious reply” from Netanyahu regarding negotiations to bring it about.

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, Gantz noted, “we have given full backing to the government’s actions and we will continue to do so, whatever the political circumstances.”

Neither Netanyahu — the leader of the right-wing Likud party — nor Gantz has been able to cobble together a parliamentary majority following three rounds of elections held over the past year, leaving Netanyahu as the caretaker prime minister.

Thus far, Gantz has refused to sit in unity government with Netanyahu, due to the corruption charges against him. Netanyahu’s criminal trial is scheduled to begin on Tuesday.

Also on Friday, the Israeli military canceled all training for reservists until after Passover in mid-April, due to the coronavirus situation.

As of Friday, 143 Israelis had tested positive for COVID-19 — with three in serious condition. There have been no deaths yet in Israel from the illness.

The Walla news outlet quoted an Israeli Health Ministry official as saying there were likely around 3,000 people in Israel who were carrying the disease but had not been identified.

The same official said 35 clinics would be set up next week to conduct coronavirus tests.

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