Up to 100,000 Israelis in Isolation as Israel Expands Travellers Quarantine

Coronavirus Outbreak - Israel
A paramedic adjusts his protective suit as he prepares outside a special polling station for voters in coronavirus quarantine in Ashkelon, Israel, March 2, 2020. AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

With at least 50,000 Israelis in quarantine, the Health Ministry on Wednesday expanded its list of restrictive orders, which will likely lead to thousands more Israelis going into home-isolation. By some reports, as many as 100,000 Israelis are currently in isolation.

“We have to understand, we are in the midst of a global epidemic,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a press conference, “the most dangerous of these epidemics in the last 100 years.”

He said that Israel is one of the best positions of any Western country.

“We had to take tough, even very rigid steps to slow the spread of the disease in Israel, and indeed it did,” the prime minister said. “Today we will take similar steps, dozens more steps.”

Those steps include that an Israeli returning to the country from France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain or Austria will be required to enter 14 days of quarantine. This restriction is retroactive and applies from the date that a person landed back in Israel.

On Wednesday, some 19 flights were expected to land in Israel from these European countries, which would put hundreds more Israelis in quarantine, Channel 12 reported. Many of them would not even be aware of the new guidelines upon landing in Israel.

Moreover, no foreigners arriving from these countries may enter Israel unless they can prove that they have a place in which they can be quarantined for the requisite time period. Any foreign traveler who has been in Iran, Iraq, Syria or Lebanon for the 14 days prior to arrival in Israel will not be allowed to enter.

Health care workers are forbidden from international travel and it is recommended that civil workers refrain from travel, too.

Israel will not host further international conferences until further notice and citizens returning from international conferences will be required to enter quarantine, as well. Mass events over 5,000 people will also not be allowed, canceling several festive events planned for the upcoming Purim holiday.

Finally, the Health Ministry asks that individuals adhere to a strict personal hygiene and avoid shaking hands.

As a result of the new restrictions, the Jerusalem Municipality released a statement explaining that it is reviewing the precautions and determining how they might impact the Jerusalem Marathon that is scheduled to take place March 20. Furthermore, a basketball game that was planned between Hapoel Jerusalem and Athens’ Peristeri BC at Jerusalem’s Pais Stadium was held without fans. Israel’s National Soccer Cup was also impacted by the announcement.

The press conference took place hours after it was determined that hundreds more Israelis are likely to enter isolation because a newly diagnosed coronavirus patient attended a soccer game at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv.

The Health Ministry asked that anyone who entered through gates eight and sat in certain sections and rows of the stadium go into home-quarantine, after patient No. 13, a high school student from the Brenner Regional Council, visited the stadium on February 24.

On the same day, the ministry announced that the Israelis who had been in home-based quarantine but voted at the Klausner Street “coronavirus voting station” in Tel Aviv were required to extend their isolation by another 14 days. This request came because “patient No. 15” was diagnosed with the novel virus Tuesday night.

Patient 15 returned from Italy on February 29 and had been in self-quarantine – except the hour between 10:15 and 11:15 on Monday morning, when he left his house to vote in the election.

One other person, patient No. 14,  was also diagnosed late Tuesday: an elementary school deputy principal from Kiryat Ono.

Patients No. 13 and 14 both contracted the coronavirus at the Red Pirate toy store in Or Yehuda.

As a result of the student being diagnosed with the potentially lethal virus, some 1,500 high school students, teachers, staff members and even school bus drivers who came into contact with the student were asked to enter home-quarantine.

Twenty-seven students from the elementary school have also been quarantined.

The teacher’s 27 students have also been quarantined.

According to the Health Ministry, all of the newly diagnosed patients have mild symptoms.

“All of the instructions provided by the Health Ministry have prevented the disease from spreading,” said Education Minister Rafi Peretz. “Schools and school principals are receiving clear instructions – we are not leaving anyone to deal with this on their own.

“The decision to put these students in isolation was made by the Health Ministry,” he continued, noting that the Education Ministry would continue to follow the Health Ministry’s recommendation “in hopes that these actions will prevent wider spread.”

Channel 12 reported that the number of people in isolation could reach as high as 100,000.

Health Ministry director-general Prof. Itamar Grotto, who is currently under quarantine himself, posted on Facebook Wednesday to help inform the public about the spread of the coronavirus in Israel and around the world.

He said that there are currently more than 93,000 cases of the novel coronavirus worldwide and more than 3,200 people dead as a result. Outside of China, there have been 13,000 cases reported and about 200 deaths.

“At present, the disease is declining in China,” he said, “but in all other countries, we are watching the rise and spread of the disease.”

The disease associated with the coronavirus has been named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization.

Grotto named South Korea, Japan, Italy, Iran, France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland among the countries known to have high rates of the virus, but said that there are other countries about which we don’t have enough information, such as the United States.

“It is estimated that the disease is more widespread than reported and we need to make decisions based on partial information,” he said, “taking into account the differences between countries and their readiness levels.”

Responding to an inquiry about whether Israelis should forgo all travel or expect to face quarantine upon return to Israel, Grotto said that “travel to countries where an outbreak is already known should know be considered,” and that one should reconsider any travel at all based on necessity and personal health status.

“Older people, over the age of 60, or people who have pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease or respiratory illness, are advised to take extreme care,” Grotto noted. “The risk for children under the age of 18 is actually lower.”

Among the many recommendations by the Health Ministry is that people who fall into the high-risk category do not have any interaction with people who traveled abroad or have any symptoms similar to those of the coronavirus.

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