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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this evening (Saturday, 18 April 2020), at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, issued the following statement with the Health and Finance Ministry director generals:

"Citizens of Israel, in recent weeks the State of Israel and all countries have been on an extraordinary journey, the goal of which is to ensure health and lives in the shadow of the global corona pandemic. Throughout this journey, we have taken determined and methodical steps to overcome the virus. Thanks to your responsibility, citizens of Israel, thanks to our wonderful medical teams that are on the frontline day and night, and thanks to the timely decisions and steps that we have taken, we have succeeded in this mission up until now.

Among the developed countries, the OECD member states, Israel is ranked very high in dealing with the coronavirus.

The per capita mortality rate in Israel is among the lowest in the OECD. The mortality rate among the sick in Israel is among the lowest in the OECD. Our heart is with the families of the deceased; our heart is with their deep sorrow over the loss of their loved ones. The per capita rate of tests in Israel is among the highest in the world. There is what to correct and we are organizing, enhancing and improving on the fly – because this is the war on corona. This is a war in which there is much uncertainty, a war which is attacking humanity in a manner that humanity has not known in 100 years.

But citizens of Israel, something happened in Israel today that has not happened since the start of the crisis. Up until today we have taken a series of steps the main point of which has been to tighten restrictions on movement, contact and the economy. We closed our borders. We initiated mandatory quarantine. We banned gathering in the public sphere. We reduced personnel in places of work. We used digital means to locate people who are sick with corona. We established a testing and procurement network that has grown from week to week. We imposed restrictions on movement and a general lockdown on holidays. We also imposed localized lockdowns in centers of outbreak. These steps have proven themselves in slowing the rate of infection and in stabilizing the numbers of seriously ill patients and those on ventilators. They have proven themselves mainly by reducing mortality in comparison to what could have happened. We see this in other countries. In Sweden, which had a lenient policy, there are over 1,000 deaths. In Belgium, which is more or less the same size as us, there are over 5,000 deaths, and so on. These are not pointless comparisons; you see this. There are good results here, relatively speaking of course; we would prefer that nobody be hurt, infected or die, but our good results are enabling us, today, to take steps in the opposite direction – not tightening, but easing in a responsible and gradual manner.

I believe that just as we have succeeded in being an example to the world in safeguarding life and blocking the outbreak of the pandemic, so too will we succeed in reviving the economy and restoring it to activity.

Tomorrow we will start to ease restrictions in both the personal sphere and the economic sphere, i.e. the economy. In recent days, I have consulted about the steps to open the economy with professional teams from the health system, with top economic leaders, with government ministers, with the Governor of the Bank of Israel and with experts from Israel and around the world, including this evening with noted Harvard epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch. The head of the National Security Council and his team have spoken and consulted with their counterparts in other countries. They are all dealing with the same questions; this is a very difficult dilemma.

But we see the health leg, the leg of saving lives, and the economic leg as limbs on the same body. Therefore, at the conclusion of the consultations, we have decided on the following steps.

We are raising the proportion of employees at workplaces from an average of 15% to an average of 30%.

We are enabling industry, high-tech and services to open further subject to their meeting the 'purple badge' standard. The 'purple badge' is a detailed procedure that provides for the number of employees at workplaces and details other essential steps for reducing the risk of infection. The Director General of the Health Ministry will give details presently. In order to make things easier for business owners and cut through the bureaucracy, they will not have to receive a permit from the authorities in advance to expand activity, they will declare that they meet the purple badge criteria and we, of course, will monitor this on an ongoing basis.

We are approving the opening of stores in various sectors: Housewares, opticians, laundries and other sectors that the Director General of the Finance Ministry will detail presently. For the time being, these are stores in the open public sphere, on city streets, but not in malls and markets.

I have instructed government ministries to prioritize government offices that serve the private sector and commercial activity in the economy because the self-employed, small businesses and businesses in general are the lifeblood of the economy and deserve all assistance.

From tomorrow we are also returning to activity special education in groups of up to three children and we will also allow the operation of daycare of up to three families with one provider.

We will adapt public transportation to the increased scope of economic activity, while maintaining social distancing and the wearing of masks, of course.

We will allow sport and exercise for regular pairs.

We will allow prayers outside by up to ten men, i.e. a minyan, while maintaining two meters' distance between worshippers and wearing masks.

Regarding retirement homes, Prof. Gamzu will present me with a detailed plan during the coming week. We will continue to invest very major resources in our older population because we always remember their contribution to our families and our state and we are enjoined to honor and watch over them. Older citizens of the country, the entire State of Israel embraces you and does so with great love and concern.

These are the main the points of the new plan. It was determined in cooperation with the Health and Finance ministries, and with all other government ministries. We will submit it for Cabinet approval tonight. If, within the next two weeks, we see the positive trend continuing, we ease additional restrictions. However, if there is an additional outbreak of the coronavirus, we will be compelled to backtrack.

I want to make it clear to you that this what all countries are doing and intend to do, without exception. Some already eased restrictions and were compelled to backtrack because the pandemic broke out again. This evening, the Director General of the Health Ministry and I spoke with Prof. Lipsitch from Harvard, and he told me: 'There is no other way. You open, try and if you need to, you close.' Of course, success depends, in large measure, on us, on all of us.

Our indicators for continuing the easing of restrictions are, first and foremost: The continued slowdown in morbidity and the stabilization of the trend regarding the severely ill, so that our health system will continue to function and will not crash. The key to success is to continue in the same manner with measured and careful decisions and – of course – the continuation of responsible behavior by the public.

Until a coronavirus vaccine is found, we are in a different reality. The entire world has changed. We simply need to live in a corona routine. Because of this, I am continuing to invest major efforts so that there will be the emergency and national unity government that the country needs so much. Nobody wants this more than I do because I have seen the coronavirus galloping toward us and I also know that it is not about to leave us anytime soon. In these conditions, I also know that the country needs a broad and stable government.

I am working day and night, literally around the clock, to fight the coronavirus and I saw, and see, an emergency and national unity government as a necessary part of achieving victory in this war. This is the reason why I agreed, in an unprecedented manner, along with Benny Gantz to request from the President a continued extension to his mandate, because I want unity. Everything else is spin.

I would now like to turn to our Muslim citizens. Ramadan is almost upon us. Just as the Jewish citizens of Israel acted during Passover, I now request that you have the Ramadan meals only with your nuclear family. I ask you to preserve the whole and thus take care of yourselves and your loved ones.

Citizens of Israel, next week will begin the days of national remembrance and revival. This time, the memorial events will be without attendance. This also applies to Independence Day events. This year, the festivities are expected to be at home, on balconies. But even under these conditions, we will proudly fly the national flag high. As Yehoram Gaon sings: 'You will not defeat me!' It is in this spirit that I tell you this evening that the coronavirus will not defeat us.

I say this out of deep faith and appreciation, out of appreciation for the medical teams, MDA, all the rescue services, the soldiers, the police, the teachers, our wonderful youth who are going to the homes of the elderly to bring them food packages and hope.

Citizens of Israel, our accomplishments measure up to every global standard, all the more so since we live in a very small and crowded country. Therefore, your achievement here is very important. There are none like you; you are amazing. Shoulder to shoulder, we will continue together in the struggle against the coronavirus. We will continue together and we will win."

Attached photo credit Silvia Golan