Health Minister Yaakov Litzman on Sunday advised Israelis against traveling to seven East Asian countries and destinations — in addition to mainland China — due to the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
The decision drew a reported rebuke from the Foreign Ministry over worries that it could harm bilateral ties with those countries.
After a meeting by Health Ministry officials to assess the situation regarding the spread of the virus, Litzman issued a statement Sunday urging travelers to carefully consider the necessity of visiting Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, South Korea, and Taiwan.
Cases of coronavirus have been found in all seven destinations.
The ministry has already told Israelis to avoid travel to mainland China, and has specified precautionary measures to be taken by those returning from the other locations.
“The ministry sees in the public a key partner for action to prevent spread of the disease,” the statement said.
However, a Foreign Ministry source sharply criticized the advice, telling the Ynet website that no other country has yet told its nationals to not visit those locations, with the exception of travel to mainland China where the virus was first detected (though several countries have issued advisories warning travelers to those nations of potential risks related to the virus).
“The Health Ministry is causing unprecedented diplomatic damage,” the source said. “Israel is the first country to take such a step.”
The coronavirus has killed at least 811 people and infected more than 37,000 since it appeared in China last month, making it even deadlier than the 2002-2003 SARS outbreak that also originated in China.
The lion’s share of cases have been reported in mainland China, which has placed mandatory quarantines on some areas in a bid to keep the virus from spreading, though some have been diagnosed with the virus outside the country, including in Europe and the US.
Israel has yet to have any confirmed cases of the virus.
Israel’s Health Ministry has previously published special directives for those returning from China, and on Friday updated its procedures for travelers feeling unwell after arriving from specific additional countries in the past 14 days, in light of the increase in the number of coronavirus cases.
In a statement at the time, the ministry said that travelers coming from China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Macau who have a fever, cough or any other respiratory symptoms must seek medical help and undergo testing.
In addition, anyone who has been in close contact with an individual confirmed to have the virus must also be tested.
Unwell travelers must warn the medical center prior to their arrival, must cover their nose and mouth with a mask or cloth, and are also asked to avoid using public transportation.