Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his close aides have been placed under precautionary quarantine after a staff member within his office tested positive for the coronavirus, his office said on Monday.

In a statement, Netanyahu’s office said the quarantine decision was precautionary as the veteran prime minister had not been in recent proximity with the ill staffer.

“The preliminary assessment is that there is no need for the prime minister to be quarantined, as he did not come into close contact with the individual and did not personally meet with that person,” the statement said.

“Over the past two weeks, the two were never in the same room at the same time,” it added.

It further noted that the “epidemiological investigation” was ongoing and that Netanyahu and “his close staff would be in confinement until [tests] were completed.” 

A separate statement from the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, identified the staffer as Rivka Paluch, Netanyahu’s parliamentary aide, noting three dates she had been in the building.

Members of the Knesset and employees have already been instructed to follow the health ministry’s orders and self-quarantine if they were in her vicinity, it said.

The Knesset said it was offering footage from its surveillance cameras to the health ministry for them to see where and when Paluch had been in the building, for the health professionals to determine which measures need be taken.

Netanyahu’s office stressed that he has had limited interpersonal contact in recent weeks, conducting “most of his meetings via video conferencing from his residence”.

The news comes as Netanyahu, 70, is widely expected to agree on an emergency unity government with his election rival Benny Gantz to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.  

The two fought three bitter but inconclusive elections over the past year, with neither securing enough support to form a viable coalition government.

Gantz, a centrist, was elected speaker of Israel’s parliament last week and has committed to backing an emergency unity government with Netanyahu, citing the need to combat COVID-19.

According to The Jerusalem Post, if Netanyahu tests positive, then he and his entire staff would have to be quarantined – in addition to Gantz, who spent eight hours with him overnight on Saturday, negotiating the terms of the unity government.

Netanyahu had tested negative for coronavirus after he and his immediate circle underwent tests on March 15.

Israeli health authorities have so far confirmed 16 deaths and over 4,300 infections from the virus.

According to the Ministry of Health, 80 of the patients are in critical condition and 139 have recovered.

As part of measures to curb the virus, all schools have been closed in the country. All meetings in public, open or closed areas with more than 10 people have also been banned.

All trading firms except supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations and banks have also been closed since March 15. Tel Aviv also banned the entry of foreign citizens to the country, except for those who have residency in Israel.

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