All this week I have been arriving to the office in Jerusalem much earlier, and not because I’ve been leaving home earlier or taking a different route. No, the buses are simply much emptier than usual, and there is an uncharacteristic lack of traffic at the entrance to Jerusalem.
According to the latest reports, there are as many as 100,000 Israelis in self-quarantine. Thousands of tourists also fled the country over the weekend for fear that their scheduled flights would be cancelled, stranding them here.
During my walk to and from the bus station each day, I typically encounter many tourists. But now, I see very few, if any. With new Health Ministry regulations, it’s now all but impossible for foreigners to enter Israel. The coronavirus has taken control of the daily flow of life in the Jewish state.
Ben Gurion Airport is all but empty
I still remember when this whole thing began. A radio report made note of a new and mysterious virus with a catchy name. There was at the time a single-digit number of infected people in China. None of us expected it to spread so quickly, or even to reach us at all.
Today, we find ourselves in a new reality. The number of infected is still relatively small, while the rest of us live in a state of constant panic over the possibility of catching the coronavirus. It’s a scenario straight out of a Hollywood movie, especially when one considers what’s happening in northern Italy, where the army has been called in to enforce a strict quarantine.
One of the things that really drives home how completely coronavirus has taken over our daily lives is how little we are talking about the recent election, the third for Israel in less than a year. Our political situation is unprecedented, and yet it is relegated most days to pages deep inside the daily newspapers. Frontpage headlines are usually focused on one thing alone: coronavirus.
In the meantime, we are glued to updates from the Ministry of Health. The situation is reminiscent of other times of crisis, such as the Gaza wars or the Gulf wars, when we were constantly waiting for the next briefing from the army spokesman. Until recently, nobody knew or cared about the name of the director of the Israel Health Ministry. Today, everyone knows his name.
Moshe Bar Siman Tov has become a household name
If there’s one bit of good news, it’s that spring seems to be coming early to the Land of Israel, and it’s said that the coronavirus doesn’t like the heat. Perhaps this crisis will soon abate so that we can again focus on the other crises we are facing?