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Four more Israelis diagnosed with coronavirus, bringing total to 25

Netanyahu says students and soldiers to disinfect public areas; Air France joins other airlines halting flights

Travelers wearing protective masks arrive at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv,, Feb. 27, 2020. (AP/Ariel Schalit)
Travelers wearing protective masks arrive at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv,, Feb. 27, 2020. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

The Health Ministry said Saturday night that four more Israelis had been diagnosed with the coronavirus, bringing the total number of known cases in the country to 25.

  • A man in his 50s from central Israel was diagnosed after returning from a trip to Barcelona. He flew to Spain on February 27 on El Al flight LY393 and returned to Israel on March 1 on El Al flight LY 394. He has been in quarantine since March 4.
  • Another person diagnosed with the virus flew to Venice on February 22 on EasyJet flight EJ2564 and returned on February 29 on EasyJet flight EJU3342. He has been in quarantine since, only leaving home to vote.
  • A third person flew from Israel to Athens, Greece on February 27 on Aegean flight A3925 and returned on March 2 on Aegean flight A3924.
  • A fourth flew out to Madrid on February 28 on Arkia flight IZ231 and returned on two flights: SN3728 (Madrid to Brussels) and SN3293 (Brussels to Tel Aviv).

The Health Ministry has ordered anyone on flights with a known coronavirus case to enter self-quarantine and contact the Health Ministry.

Israel’s most severe case is a bus driver who chauffeured a group of Greek tourists who were later found to be infected. His condition deteriorated over the weekend, and he is now unconscious and breathing with a respirator at Baruch Padeh Medical Center in Tiberias.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that the disease was a pandemic.

“First of all, this is a global pandemic, whether the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) calls it such or not. It is a matter of days or hours. It is doubtful whether there has been a similar pandemic in the last 100 years. It seems that the rate of infection is greater than we figured,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu said students and soldiers would help disinfect public facilities.

“The epidemic doesn’t hurt children or youth, thank God, and we need to disinfect public facilities. This virus is sensitive to bleach. We need to act in an organized way to disinfect train stations, buses and other areas,” Netanyahu said.

A young couple wearing protective masks are greeted upon arrival at Ben Gurion airport in Israel on March 4, 2020. (Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

The air force would check that Israel had all essential supplies, he said.

Netanyahu said he was in touch with other world leaders and had discussed international cooperation to stem the spread of the outbreak. The virus hit a milestone Friday, infecting more than 100,000 people worldwide. It has killed nearly 3,400 people.

The director-general of the Health Ministry, Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, indicated Saturday night that Israel was about to place restrictions on flights arriving from some parts of the US. Israel would not take action against all flights from the US, but would act on a state-by-state basis, he said.

Specifying flights from New York, Washington, and California, he said a decision would be announced later Saturday or Sunday.

Israel has already required returning Israelis from several countries to self-quarantine, and barred foreigners from a slew of European and Asian countries. Some 80,000 Israelis are now reported to be in self-quarantine, and large events such as concerts and sporting matches have been canceled.

Israelis have also been advised against all non-vital international travel.

People wearing face masks for fear of the coronavirus at Ben Gurion International airport, February 27, 2020. (Avshalom Shoshani/Flash90)

Over the weekend the Health Ministry added San Marino and Andorra to its list of quarantined countries.

Channel 13 reported that hundreds of suspected cases in Israel were not checked over the weekend because the health system is overwhelmed.

Air France said on Saturday it had halted all flights between Paris and Tel Aviv until March 28.

Lufthansa, Air France, Alitalia, Ibera and Wizz Air have all cut back or halted flights to Israel.

Israel on Wednesday barred entry to almost all non-residents of the Jewish state arriving from France, Germany, Spain, Austria and Switzerland. The measures come on top of restrictions previously imposed on arrivals from mainland China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Macau, South Korea, Japan and Italy.

Netanyahu said Israel was likely better off than any other country and that he planned to open a credit line on Sunday to aid companies hit by the virus. He said the country needed to strike a balance between the economy and public health.

“I’ll continue to do everything necessary to protect the health of the citizens of Israel. I ask that you to strictly follow the directives,” he said. “Don’t shake hands. Don’t touch your face, if you need to, use a tissue or something else. These are the things that will reduce the spread of the epidemic.

An Israeli women wearing a face mask to protect against coronavirus in Jerusalem, March 2, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

On Friday reports said Israel was considering barring entry to US citizens, and forcing Israelis returning from the US into quarantine. Foreigners from the UK and the Netherlands are expected to be denied entry next week.

Between 50,000 and 80,000 Israelis are under self-quarantine and large events such as concerts and sporting matches have been canceled due to directives issued by the Health Ministry.

The Israel Police announced Thursday that it had begun a crackdown on citizens who are violating its far-reaching restrictions.

The virus, which emerged in China late last year, has infected over 100,000 people in more than 90 countries, killing over 3,400.

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