Chinese laborer quarantined in Israel over fears he has deadly coronavirus

Worker, who had already been in country for several days, delivered to hospital in mobile isolation unit; Israeli woman returning from China trip also quarantined

Screen capture from video of a Chinese laborer, suspected of suffering from the cornoavirus, being brought to Barzilai Medical Center, January 2020. (Ynet news)
Screen capture from video of a Chinese laborer, suspected of suffering from the cornoavirus, being brought to Barzilai Medical Center, January 2020. (Ynet news)

A Chinese laborer was hospitalized and quarantined in Israel last week amid fears that he is suffering from a new deadly flu-like virus that has spread from China.

The worker, 32, was hospitalized in the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon four days ago after arriving in the country several weeks ago.

Health Ministry video of his arrival by ambulance at the hospital, released Sunday, showed the man encased in a mobile isolation unit with staff completely covered in protective clothing, wearing rubber gloves and masks as they wheeled him into the building.

The coronavirus has claimed the lives of 41 people in China so far, has sickened hundreds, and prompted unprecedented lockdowns of cities across the country.

However, Chezy Levy, the medical director of Barzilai Medical Center, told media that the patient was not confirmed as having coronavirus and urged against panicking over the case.

“At the moment, he does not exactly answer the case definition as described by the Health Ministry, but we are exercising caution and care and checking him in every way,” Levy said.

He said that when the results of tests return, doctors will decide whether to keep him isolated, as recommended by the Health Ministry for a case of coronavirus.

Screen capture from video of Chezy Levy, the Medical Director of Barzilai Medical Center, January 26, 2020. (Twitter)

The case came as an Israeli woman, in her 60s, was hospitalized in total isolation at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital over concerns that she had the coronavirus.

The woman had recently returned from a trip to China and arrived at a medical center in the city of Givatayim with flu-like symptoms. Staff immediately contacted Ichilov and the woman was brought to the hospital for tests, the results of which are expected in the coming days.

The hospital said Sunday in a statement the woman was admitted with signs of a respiratory disease and a high fever.

“She was immediately admitted to the designated isolation ward for fear of having contracted the coronavirus,” the statement said.

The hospital said she was “in good condition,” and was being kept in quarantine in an inpatient ward.

Ichilov said it had prepared for the possibility that the disease would be found in the country and applied safety procedures in dealing with the patient as recommended by the Health Ministry.

She was the fifth Israeli suspected of having contracted the disease — all four of the previous patients have been cleared of having the virus.

Also Sunday, customs workers at Ben Gurion Airport said they would no longer check passengers and their luggage arriving from China due to a lack of protective gear. The workers said in a statement that they had asked management for suitable equipment, but so far it had not been provided.

The Health Ministry on Sunday advised against making non-essential visits to China. Those who do have to go should follow the instructions of local authorities and not travel at all to the city of Wuhan, where the coronavirus outbreak is believed to have begun, the ministry warned.

A Chinese-speaking tour guide told The Times of Israel that all organized tours from China have been canceled starting Monday. Although individuals can still visit Israel, agencies have been prevented from sending tours out of the country.

El Al Airlines was reportedly allowing travelers with tickets from Israel to China to change their flight without any fees or penalties due to the virus. The exemption from fees covers anyone with a ticket to China in the next two weeks.

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.

Masked residents walk through a deserted subway station in Shanghai, China, January 26, 2020. (Erika Kinetz/AP)

China announced Friday that it was swiftly building a 1,000-bed hospital dedicated to patients infected with the virus.

Chinese health authorities said the number of confirmed cases in China rose to more than 1,300 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.

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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