Political ramifications from the outbreak of novel coronavirus are rippling around the world — and for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the timing couldn’t be worse.
Israel’s first confirmed cases of the virus surfaced just days before the country’s elections next week — and Israel’s government is now warning that “fake news” about the virus could be used to manipulate voters, Breitbart reported.
“There could be all kinds of elements, including foreign elements, which could interfere in the elections this way. We have an interest in stopping this,” Netanyahu said Sunday.
Israel warns of coronavirus “fake news”
Israel has two confirmed cases of coronavirus out of the nearly 80,000 worldwide. The country is slamming its borders shut to foreigners who have passed through countries most affected by the outbreak, including China, Japan, and South Korea, and government ministers remain wary of the disease and its potential effect on next week’s vote.
At an emergency meeting on the coronavirus Sunday, Netanyahu and Public Minister Gilad Erdan raised concerns about possible efforts to influence the election with disinformation about the disease. The ministers said that police and security forces from the Shin Bet agency should be ready to respond to such threats.
“We can’t ignore that we’re a week and a half before the elections and of course there is a concern there will be implications of the corona on the elections themselves and actors who will attempt to damage the integrity of the elections by disseminating false reports — fake news — on the issue in order to influence the voting percentage in certain areas,” Erdan said.
Coronavirus lands in Israel
An Israeli woman who returned from a Japanese cruise ship that suffered an outbreak of the virus, Diamond Princess, tested positive for the disease but recovered before returning home. A second Israeli passenger from that ship was confirmed to have the virus and is in quarantine in Israel, the Jerusalem Post reported. Other returning passengers are also in quarantine.
Israel is calling on all citizens returning from South Korea and Japan to quarantine themselves for a limited time. The government also asked some 200 Israelis who came into contact with South Korean tourists to self-quarantine after the tourists tested positive for the virus, although it’s unclear if they had it when they were in Israel.
Netanyahu: no need to postpone elections
Netanyahu has a lot at stake in the March 2 election, the nation’s third election in a year of political crisis. Israel has been embroiled in uncertainty after two previous elections failed to produce a governing coalition — and then Netanyahu became the first sitting prime minister in the nation’s history to be indicted for corruption. Netanyahu has said that there is no need to postpone the election, despite public anxiety about the disease, Haaretz reported.
“We will continue to do whatever is necessary to prevent the spread of the virus in Israel,” he said. “We have also issued guidelines to Israelis who are returning to the country and we demand that these guidelines, which we are releasing to the public, be strictly adhered to.”
President Donald Trump, a stalwart ally of Netanyahu, said that the coronavirus is “under control” on Monday. But a day later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans to prepare for a domestic outbreak, saying it was a matter of when, not if, coronavirus begins to spread in the U.S.
America has at least 53 confirmed cases so far, including 14 Americans who tested positive for the disease while stateside. Most of those infected are returning travelers, including Diamond Princess passengers and Americans repatriated from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak.