With coronavirus spreading, Israel warns residents on travel abroad and adds Italy to banned visitors list

Workers inside a building at Tel Hashomer Hospital, which was converted to receive the Israelis who were under quarantine on the cruise ship Diamond Princess in Japan due to the spread of the coronavirus, Feb. 20, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

by Mary Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — As the coronovirus spread worldwide, Israel’s Health Ministry called on Israelis to refrain from unnecessary travel abroad and said that any Israeli returning from Italy must self-quarantine for two weeks.

On Thursday, February 27, the Health Ministry announced that an Israeli man who returned from Italy earlier this week tested positive for the deadly coronavirus and was quarantined at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, in central Israel. Israelis who traveled home on the same flight were ordered to home quarantine.

The same day, Interior Minister Arye Deri said he would sign an order banning visitors from Italy from entering Israel. Visitors from China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Macao, Singapore, South Korea and Japan already are banned.

Also Thursday, the Health Ministry mandated the self-quarantine for Israelis returning from Italy, effective immediately.

The ministry had issued its warning about foreign travel a day earlier in a statement.

“The situation assessment shows a high likelihood that the disease has spread in other regions of Europe and many other places in the world,” the statement said. “Traveling to conferences and other international congregations, including trips to religious events where people from many countries meet, should also be avoided. Additionally, international conferences to be held in Israel should be avoided.”

More than 1,500 Israelis currently are quarantined in their homes, according to the Health Ministry.

The Education Ministry announced the cancellation of all school trips abroad until further notice due to the virus. Many high schools were scheduled to leave for Poland.

Meanwhile, athletes arriving from foreign countries have been barred from participating in the popular Tel Aviv Marathon on Friday. Runners from foreign countries who already were in Israel prior to Tuesday will be allowed to participate, however. Some 40,000 Israelis are expected to participate in the event.

Officials from El Al, Israel’s national carrier, told the Israeli media that the airline and other airlines could go under in weeks due to the travel restrictions and warnings over the coronavirus.

“It’s a catastrophe,” an El Al official told the Kan public broadcaster, The Times of Israel reported. “The airlines here will collapse within weeks. El Al, even before the Health Ministry announcement, sustained [$50 million] in damages due to the coronavirus.

“If the state doesn’t wake up, there won’t be an airline here in a matter of weeks.”

In a news conference Thursday, researchers from the Galilee Research Institute, or Migal, announced that they have developed a vaccine against the coronavirus for poultry and are only three months away from testing a vaccine on humans, Ynet reported.

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