Coronavirus Hits Israel, Raising Concern About Election Impact

Israel’s Central Elections Committee is examining the possibility of setting up special voting stations for citizens exposed to coronavirus as officials warned that false reports could be planted about the epidemic’s spread to scare people away from the polls.

“There may be all kinds of elements, including foreign, that may try to interfere in the elections in this way and we have a great interest in stopping this,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a special meeting of ministers and other officials to discuss the coronavirus outbreak. No such efforts have been reported, eight days ahead of the March 2 vote.

No full-blown cases of coronavirus have been reported in Israel. Some 200 Israelis were asked to quarantine themselves at home after coming in contact with a group of South Korean tourists who tested positive for the virus on their return from a trip to Israel. Eleven Israelis who had been aboard the virus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship were quarantined at a hospital upon their return, including one woman who tested positive as a carrier.

Israel has closed its borders to foreign nationals who live in or have recently visited Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau and China. Netanyahu said flights from Australia and Italy would be scrutinized more thoroughly.

Isolated Sites

The election is Israel’s third in less than a year, and setting up special polling stations for people under quarantine would require identifying isolated sites and mobilizing discrete teams to staff them. The Health Ministry has forbidden anyone sent into quarantine to leave home, and special dispensation to vote would have to come from the minister, the committee added.

Bank Leumi Le-Israel Ltd. has forecast the virus will moderately damage the Israeli economy this year, and in the extreme, slow economic growth to less than 2% in real terms. Gross domestic product has been forecast at 3%.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon convened top ministry officials on Sunday to discuss how to deal with the possible economic impact of the virus.

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