Health officials said on Sunday they're examining a possibility of extending entry bans and requiring Israelis returning from all countries to enter a 14-day home quarantine over coronavirus fears. The move would effectively cut off foreign tourism.
Last week Israel extended its compulsory two-week quarantine to nationals returning from Spain, Germany, France, Switzerland and Austria. Travelers returning to Israel from China, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea, and Italy have already been instructed to do the same.
In a special press conference held by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman and Director General of the Health Ministry Moshe Bar-Siman-Tov, the three said the final decision on whether to implement the measure will be taken on Monday after consultation with health experts.
"We have reached the decision that if we take additional steps, it will apply to all countries," he said during the news conference. "The decision [whether to implement the measure] is very difficult. There are questions about how to do it … We are not talking about closing our borders, but only requiring quarantine from those arriving in Israel,” he added.
"The emphasis is on trying to get to home tests, just like a pregnancy test or a throat surface test … to separate the healthy people from the sick.”
Litzman said the fact that so far only 26 people tested positive for the virus in Israel is a testament the steps taken by the Health Ministry to slow the spread of coronavirus. "Switzerland, which is on the same scale as Israel, has 270 cases," he said.
“There are things we need to consider [when making the decision] including economy, but economy is not the decisive issue, only the public health.”
The Health Ministry initially put forward the demand to expand entry restrictions to include travelers from all countries during Netanyahu’s cabinet meeting in the afternoon hours. The question of expanding the ban to the United States remains a sensitive topic due to possible political implications of the move.
Netanyahu spoke with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence shortly after the cabinet meeting, apparently discussing a possibility of including the U.S. into the list of countries with travel advisory. Sources close to the prime minister say among the states that might be included in the entry ban are: New York, California and Washington.
Israel has reported 28 coronavirus cases and some 80,000 Israelis are in self-quarantine after returning from foreign visits.
Reuters contributed to this report