PM Netanyahu calls for unity govt to tackle COVID-19

COVID 19: Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu calls for unity government to combat coronavirus

 Representative image. (AFP Photo)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Thursday for the "immediate" formation of a national unity government to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, a proposal main challenger Benny Gantz said he was willing to discuss.

Netanyahu issued the call as he ordered the closure of schools.

In a live television address, the premier said it was necessary to form a government "to save the lives of numerous citizens".

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"I call for the formation of an emergency government for a limited time, from this evening," he said.

Final results of the March 2 elections showed the prime minister's right-wing Likud party and its allies falling short of the 61 seats required to form a government.

Gantz, who heads the centrist Blue and White party, had also been aiming to form a government in alliance with the centre-left and with the support of the mainly Arab Joint List.

Following Netanyahu's announcement, Gantz said "in light of the situation, we would be willing discuss the establishment of a broad, national emergency government."

Gantz said such a government should include representatives from "all parties" represented in the parliament.

It was not immediately clear when talks on forming such a government would begin or who would lead it.

The nationalist Yisrael Beitenu, which won seven seats and holds the balance of power, also called on Thursday for a unity government to respond to the coronavirus crisis.

President Reuven Rivlin, a largely ceremonial figure tasked with selecting a candidate to lead a government, said he had spoken to both Netanyahu and Gantz on Thursday.

The president offered "his support for the formation of a government as soon as possible to deal with the national crisis," Rivlin's office said in a statement.

The March 2 election was Israel's third inconclusive vote in less than a year.

Netanyahu also ordered the immediate closure of Israeli schools and universities.

Authorities have banned assemblies of more than 100 people.

The Israeli Rabbinate have called for faithful to accept official instructions as "a religious obligation".

Entry to Israel has been barred for all foreigners except those who can prove they can remain in isolation.

Everyone arriving in the country must be quarantined for two weeks, Netanyahu announced Monday.

Israel's health ministry has reported 109 COVID-19 cases in Israel and says more than 32,000 people are in quarantine.

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