The Health Ministry on Saturday said nine South Koreans tested positive for the coronavirus after a recent visit to Israel.
The Koreans were in Israel from February 8-15 and were confirmed to have the virus upon their return to South Korea, according to a statement from the ministry.
The ministry called on anyone who was in close contact with the Koreans to report this and self-quarantine for 14 days from the date of their last interaction.
It also posted a list of places the group visited, among them Netanya, Caesaria, Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, Beersheba, Jerusalem and the West Bank city of Hebron.
The statement from the ministry came shortly after a BBC reporter in Seoul said seven South Koreans from a tour group to Israel of 77 organized by the Catholic Church tested positive for the virus upon their return home.
It was not clear whether they were carrying the virus when they arrived in Israel. Symptoms of the virus can take up to two weeks, and possibly longer, to present. South Korea has reported over 400 cases of the virus to date.
“We’re trying to clarify if someone from the local churches was in contact with them [the South Koreans],” Wadih Abu Al-Nasr, the Vatican’s spokesman in Israel, told Channel 13 news.
“I’m hoping they weren’t infected in Israel. I wish them a speedy recovery and hope and pray that none of our people here were infected by this problematic virus,” he added.
The manager of a Jerusalem hotel where the group stayed during its visit told Channel 12 that staff that cleaned the group’s rooms had been instructed by the Health Ministry to self quarantine.
“Other hotel workers must report if they feel ill or develop any symptoms,” he said. He added that employees were calm.
The Israel Nature and Parks Authority confirmed the group visited the national parks Tel Beersheva, Masada and Caesaria.
“Instructions were given to employees at the sites who were in contact [with the South Koreans],” it said in a statement.
The report comes a day after Israel reported its first case of the novel COVID-19 virus, an Israeli woman who returned to the country after being quarantined on a cruise ship off Japan that saw a large number of infections.
South Korea on Saturday reported an eight-fold jump in viral infections in four days to 433, most of them linked to a church and a hospital in and around the country’s fourth-largest city, where health workers scrambled to screen more than 9,000 worshipers.
7 of South Korea’s confirmed coronavirus cases had just returned from an 8 day trip to Israel. 77 people were on the holiday organised by their Catholic Church.
— Laura Bicker (@BBCLBicker) February 22, 2020
There’s concern that the death toll, currently at two, could grow. Virus patients with signs of pneumonia or other serious conditions at the Cheongdo hospital were transferred to other facilities, 17 of them in critical condition, Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told reporters.
He said that the outbreak had entered a serious new phase, but still expressed cautious optimism that it can be contained to the region surrounding Daegu, where the first case was reported on Tuesday.
In some positive news, China said Saturday the daily count of new virus cases there fell significantly to 397, though another 109 people died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Most of the new cases and all but three of the deaths were in Hubei province, where the outbreak started.
However, in a troubling sign, Hubei’s government reported Saturday that a man showed symptoms of the virus 27 days after being infected, according to Reuters, nearly double the estimated incubation time of 14 days.
The new figures, along with an upward revision of Hubei’s earlier count, brought the total number of cases in mainland China to 76,288 with 2,345 deaths. China has severely restricted travel and imposed strict quarantine measures to stop the virus from spreading.
Globally, nearly 78,000 people have been infected in 29 countries, and more than 2,300 have died. Italian authorities say a 78-year-old man died of the disease and the number of people infected has more than quadrupled due to an emerging cluster of cases in the country’s north. Many of the new cases represented the first infections in Italy acquired through secondary contagion and brought the country’s total to 19.
A dozen towns in northern Italy were on effective lockdown Saturday as a second death from coronavirus sparked fears throughout the area.
In the United States, 35 people have tested positive for the virus, including 18 who returned home from a quarantined cruise ship in Japan and one new case reported Friday in California.
Saudi Arabia barred travel to Iran and said anyone coming from there can enter only after a 14-day quarantine. The decision directly impacts thousands of Iranians who travel to Mecca and Medina for Islamic pilgrimages, effectively barring them from the kingdom.
Iran has reported five deaths for a total of 28 cases.