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Netanyahu tested negative after fear of COVID-19 infection

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel continues to rise. There have been 18 fatalities and 4,831 people who have tested positive for the disease, 83 of whom are in critical condition. 163 have recovered, including one who had previously been diagnosed as critically ill.

Incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu entered self-isolation and is now undergoing relevant medical testing after his advisor on ultra-Orthodox Jewish affairs, Rivka Paluch, contracted COVID-19.

During a special televised briefing from his official Jerusalem residence on the latest government measures to counter the disease, Prime Minister Netanyahu underscored that he “decided to enter into voluntary quarantine in order to set a personal example.” Even though the Israeli leader was tested and shown negative for coronavirus, his office released a statement that an epidemiological report is ongoing in accordance with Health Ministry regulations.

“It is true that we in Israel are in a better position than almost any other country regarding the number of patients in critical condition and the mortality rate, but we are not satisfied therewith,” noted Prime Minister Netanyahu, adding that, “We aspire to the degree of success of several Asian countries, which have greatly slowed the rate of infection.” Toward that end, he said that he had submitted “additional life-saving restrictions” for Cabinet approval.

Netanyahu also sought to sooth rising public frustration over reports that the ultra-Orthodox sector is refusing to adhere to legally-binding government anti-disease directives. “Now I must say, citizens of Israel, that most of you are adhering to the directives of the Health Ministry. I thank you for that,” he said, before going on to acknowledge, “But we have still not reached the desired point. There are individuals – and moreover, there are certain groups in the country which are pointedly ignoring, and are even showing contempt for, the clear directives that have been published.”

“Whoever violates the ban on congregating is trampling the basic principles of ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ and ‘“Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed,’” stressed the Israeli leader, vehemently declaring “This is unabashed lawlessness. Therefore, I have ordered the security forces to prepare for a stepped-up enforcement operation.”

Disobedience by the ultra-Orthodox to observe anti-coronavirus measures is evident by rising infection rates in their communities while it is on the decline elsewhere. One out of every three (34%) residents of the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak have now tested positive for the contagion, while the majority of the 10% of infected Jerusalem residents also reportedly reside in religious neighborhoods.

Chief Superintendent Ronen Goresh of the Israel Police said that the two primary “violation” in which the ultra-Orthodox engage is the continued mass congregation at synagogues and seminaries, known as “Yeshivas.” He added that many in the religious communities have disregarded the outbreak “and everything that is currently happening in the country,” so the police “need to be there to enforce the government ordered measures and to make sure that those people do not spread the disease.”

Israeli Police Spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld told TV7 the prevalence of the outbreak can be linked to the densely-populated neighborhoods in which the ultra-Orthodox reside, and that it is a challenge to communicate the danger presented by the coronavirus due to the community’s deliberate disconnection from secular mass media. He stated that authorities are conducting direct dialogue with various rabbis, who are often regarded as the sole authority to whom their followers adhere.