El Al allowing fliers to change tickets to China as virus scare widens — report

Travelers with flights to country in the next two weeks can reschedule free of any charges or penalties as deadly coronavirus spreads and authorities warn tourists of risk

Health surveillance officers use a temperature scanner to monitor passengers arriving at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, Jan. 25, 2020. (AP/Vincent Yu)
Health surveillance officers use a temperature scanner to monitor passengers arriving at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, Jan. 25, 2020. (AP/Vincent Yu)

El Al Airlines is reportedly allowing travelers with tickets to China to change their flight without any fees or penalties amid fears of a deadly virus outbreak in China.

The exemption from fees covers anyone with a ticket to China in the next two weeks, the Ynet news site reported.

There was no official announcement from El Al.

Earlier Saturday, three Israelis who were hospitalized after suspected contact with the virus were cleared following lab tests, the Health Ministry said.

The three were hospitalized at Sheba Medical Center, Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem and a third unnamed hospital after showing flu-like symptoms.

They had returned from China recently or come into contact with people who had, according to Channel 12.

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.

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

Meanwhile, a Chinese tourist was hospitalized in Beit Jala in the West Bank amid fears she contracted the virus, Israeli news-site Walla reported Saturday, citing the Palestinian Authority.

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 outbreak.

Medical staff wearing protective clothing to help stop the spread of a deadly virus which began in the city, work at the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan on January 25, 2020. (Hector RETAMAL / AFP)

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.”

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 Israeli warning came as 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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