Fifteen people who arrived in Israel last week on an El Al flight from New York have been diagnosed with the new coronavirus, Channel 12 news reported Sunday.
The infected flyers, part of a group from the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic sect, were put in quarantine as soon as they arrived in Israel over concerns that they had been exposed to the virus before getting on the plane.
The Health Ministry updated El Al and efforts are now being made to contact the rest of the 200-odd passengers and crew who were on the plane so that they can self-quarantine, the report said.
The boarding of the plane last Wednesday was temporarily halted due to fears that some of the passengers could be carrying the virus, with passengers required to sign a declaration stating that they had not in the previous two weeks been exposed to anyone else known to have the disease, or that they themselves were experiencing any symptoms such as a fever or respiratory difficulties.
They also agreed that signing the document under false pretenses would constitute a criminal offense, the report said.
The concerns apparently revolved around the Chabad passengers due to a spread of the disease in the Crown Heights neighborhood where their movement is based.
The Chabad passengers, said to be 75 in number, were told at Ben Gurion Airport that due to their arrival from a virus hotspot, they would not be allowed to home quarantine and would be assumed to be carriers until proven otherwise. Israel has ordered all those arriving from abroad to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Channel 12 said 15 of the 28 Chabad members whose tests had been checked as of Sunday evening have been diagnosed with the virus. They are quarantined at the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem, the report said.
According to the report, there are currently 114 Chabad members in the hotel, which is being run by the military’s Home Front Command, as part of an effort to ease the load on the country’s hospitals as they deal with the rising number of patients diagnosed with the COVID-19 illness.
The flight from New York took off the day after the Chabad headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights was shuttered amid an outbreak of the pathogen in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood.
The building, known among followers of the Hasidic Jewish movement as 770, had never before closed, according to Chabad.info, a movement website that confirmed the closure.
The closure, which was first reported by the Orthodox news service COLlive.com, came after days in which it was unclear how seriously some in the neighborhood were taking the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as other synagogues around the globe curtailed their Purim parties earlier this month and called off Shabbat services, 770 and the surrounding neighborhood continued to bustle.
Israel has applied increasingly tight restrictions on public gatherings and activities aimed at curbing a spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Leisure sites have been closed, the education system shut down, gatherings restricted to no more than 10 people, and the public ordered to remain inside their homes, only venturing out if absolutely necessary or to buy supplies.
As of Sunday afternoon, 945 people have been diagnosed with the virus in Israel, and one person has died. At least 37 have recovered.
JTA contributed to this report.