3 Israelis hospitalized with flu-like symptoms as coronavirus fears mount

Patients, some of whom traveled to China, in isolation while undergoing tests; medical authorities taking every precaution as deadly virus claims 41 lives so far

Pharmacy workers wearing protective clothes and masks serve customers in Wuhan on January 25, 2020 (Hector RETAMAL / AFP)
Pharmacy workers wearing protective clothes and masks serve customers in Wuhan on January 25, 2020 (Hector RETAMAL / AFP)

Three Israelis have been hospitalized and are currently in isolation as medical authorities run tests to determine whether they may have come into contact with a new virus that has killed over three dozen people in China so far.

Medical authorities in Israel believe the three do not have the coronavirus but are taking every precaution as they appear to have flu-like symptoms and at least some of them recently came back from China, Channel 12 reported on Saturday.

Two Israelis who were hospitalized earlier for the same reasons have been cleared and released, according to the report.

Of the three patients currently hospitalized, one is at the Sheba Medical Center in central Israel, one is at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem and the third is currently at another unnamed hospital.

The Health Ministry expects the three to be cleared and released from the hospital as well within the coming days.

On Friday, the Health Ministry issued a warning for Israelis not to travel to the Chinese city of Wuhan and its surroundings, as Beijing struggles to deal with the new virus that has claimed the lives of 41 people, sickened hundreds and prompted unprecedented lockdowns of cities.

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses, some of which cause the common cold. Others have evolved into more severe illnesses, such as SARS and MERS, though so far the new virus does not appear to be nearly as deadly or contagious.

The Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, January 2, 2014. (Gideon Markowicz/FLASH90)

The ministry urged Israelis to avoid all travel to the region unless it was absolutely critical and said it was “in contact with all the international bodies and experts in Israel and abroad.”

“The public will be continuously updated on developments,” the ministry said.

The warning comes as China announced Friday that it is swiftly building a 1,000-bed hospital dedicated to patients infected with the coronavirus.

Passengers wearing protective face masks enter the departure hall of a high speed train station in Hong Kong, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)

Chinese health authorities said the number of confirmed cases in China rose to more than 1,200 and the death toll climbed to 41. Australia and Malaysia reported their first cases and Japan identified a third one on Saturday. Singapore confirmed its third and Thailand its fifth. Cases have also been detected in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, the United States and Vietnam.

In Wuhan, the epicenter of the emergency, 450 military medics were deployed to help treat patients where a seafood and live animal market has been identified as the center of the outbreak.

Wuhan authorities are racing to build a second new hospital within a fortnight, state media reported, adding 1,300 new beds.

“To address the insufficiency of existing medical resources,” Wuhan is constructing a hospital modeled after the Xiaotangshan SARS hospital in Beijing, Wuhan authorities said in a Friday notice. The facility will be a prefabricated structure on a 25,000- square-meter (270,000-square-foot) lot, slated for completion February 3.

The SARS hospital was built from scratch in 2003 in just six days to treat an outbreak of a similar respiratory virus that had spread from China to more than a dozen countries and killed about 800 people. The hospital featured individual isolation units that looked like rows of tiny cabins.

The crisis comes on the eve of the Lunar New Year. The country’s most important celebration has been all but canceled for at least 56 million people as authorities expanded travel bans across central Hubei province to try and contain the spread of the virus.

On the eastern outskirts of Wuhan, police manning a roadblock turned away a handful of vehicles trying to exit the city.

Medical staff members carrying a patient into the Jinyintan hospital, where patients infected by a mysterious SARS-like virus are being treated, in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province, January 18, 2020. (AFP)

But the police allowed some medical workers who had gone home for the holidays to re-enter the city to help at crowded hospitals.

The government says most of the cases have been in Hubei and most of the deaths involved people who already suffered pre-existing health conditions.

Underscoring fears that the virus could spread further, Beijing will suspend long-distance bus service entering and leaving the capital of 20 million people from Sunday due to “requirements of epidemic prevention and control,” the official People’s Daily newspaper reported.

The National Health Commission also ordered nationwide measures to detect and isolate people carrying the virus on planes, trains and buses across the country.

Xinhua said Saturday that temperature screening checkpoints have been set up in 387 railway stations across the country.

Meanwhile, tourists from Hubei in Haikou, capital of the island province of Hainan, were told by the city government they had to spend 14 days in a hotel for centralized medical observation and were forbidden to leave.

Foreign citizens were set to be evacuated from the virus-hit Wuhan within the next few days.

While the majority of deaths have been older patients, a 36-year-old man in Hubei was admitted to the hospital earlier this month after suffering from fever for three days. He died following a sudden cardiac arrest on Jan. 23.

Many countries are screening travelers from China and isolating anyone with symptoms.

The World Health Organization decided against declaring the outbreak a global emergency for now. The declaration can increase resources to fight a threat but its potential to cause economic damage makes the decision politically fraught.

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