Foreign citizens arriving from France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Austria will not be allowed into Israel unless they can show a proven ability to self-quarantine at a home during their stay, the Israeli health ministry announced.
The ministry had previously issued similar orders for travelers returning from Italy, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Thailand and South Korea, and reiterated its recommendation to refrain from unnecessary trips to these countries.
The new measures and restrictions are intended to curb the spread of coronavirus in the country, sending arrivals from five Western European nations into immediate quarantine and limiting mass gatherings throughout the country.
All Israelis returning from France, Germany, Spain, Austria and Switzerland were instructed to enter self-quarantine for a period of 14 days after their last day in those countries, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced at a press conference alongside Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.
As of Wednesday, there were 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection in Israel.
The ministry also announced that gatherings of over 5,000 people will henceforth not be permitted, and Netanyahu advised Israelis to avoid personal contact, including shaking hands. International conferences of any kind will not be permitted.
Another restriction is a ban on gatherings of over 100 people for people who have returned from anywhere abroad in the past 14 days.
Events scheduled for next week’s Purim celebrations, including parades and street parties nationwide, have been canceled. Large sporting events have also been canceled.
Netanyahu told a press conference Wednesday that the virus was “a global epidemic,” possibly “one of the most dangerous in the past century.”
But he insisted that Israel “is in the best state of all nations” in containing the disease, which has so far been diagnosed in 15 Israelis and has sent thousands into quarantine.
“We are in control of the situation, thanks to the great caution we have adopted,” he said. “We have been forced to take very severe steps to slow the spread of the virus in Israel and that is what has happened. We have ordered quarantines and mass checkups that many other countries haven’t done.”
He said he would be the first to stop shaking hands, though he noted that avoiding all physical contact went against the nature of Israelis.
“Public health is our chief concern, which is why we have taken steps that other countries have not. We were the first in the world to block flights from countries in which the virus has a significant presence. We have also taken other measures,” he said.
“I know that there is also a not simple economic burden for airlines and businesses. I have appointed Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to head a ministerial committee in order to assist those businesses and airlines,” he added.
The health ministry stressed that the outbreak could still be contained.
Health Minister Director General Moshe Siman-Tov said, “We are doing four times as many tests than are carried out in the U.S., because we want to reach people faster and reduce their infection potential. This is the way to reduce morbidity numbers.”