Health Ministry weighs asking Israelis who visited China to self-quarantine

Health Ministry weighs asking Israelis who visited China to self-quarantine

Ministry also to evaluate current travel policies to and from China; Foreign Ministry denies evacuating diplomats’ families from country

A security officer directs a man past a thermal imaging camera at a subway station in Beijing, January 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
A security officer directs a man past a thermal imaging camera at a subway station in Beijing, January 29, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

The Health Ministry on Wednesday said it was considering calling on Israelis who recently visited China to quarantine themselves amid the outbreak of the coronavirus.

The ministry said this would include asking those who traveled to China to avoid public areas for a few days after their return, even if they are healthy and have no signs of the virus.

The ministry also said it would examine current Israeli policy on travel to and from China.

Separately, the Foreign Ministry denied reports it was evacuating the families of Israeli diplomatic personnel from China.

“All the Israeli [diplomatic] missions in China are continuing to function as normally and are at the service of Israelis staying in the country,” a ministry spokesperson said.

The clarification came as the number of confirmed cases in mainland China of the new virus jumped to 5,974, surpassing the 5,327 there during the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003.

The death toll rose to 132, which is still lower than the 348 people who were killed in China by SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome. Scientists say there are still many questions to be answered about the new virus, including just how transmissible and severe it is.

Security personnel wearing protective masks walk in front of the portrait of late communist leader Mao Zedong (C, back) at Tiananmen Gate in Beijing on January 23, 2020. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP)

Chartered planes carrying about 200 evacuees each arrived in Japan and the United States early Wednesday as other countries planned similar evacuations from the city of Wuhan, which authorities have shut down to try to contain the virus.

The first cases in the Middle East were confirmed Wednesday with a family of four from Wuhan who were visiting the United Arab Emirates. Airlines around the world announced they were cutting flights to China, and Hong Kong was suspending rail travel to and from the mainland at midnight.

The number of cases in China rose 1,459 from the previous day, a smaller increase than the 1,771 new cases reported Tuesday. Australia and Singapore were among those reporting new cases, as the number outside China topped 70. The vast majority are people who came from Wuhan.

Four passengers on the evacuation flight to Japan had coughs and fevers, and two were diagnosed with pneumonia.

It wasn’t clear whether they were infected with the new virus, which first appeared in Wuhan in December. Its symptoms, including cough and fever and in severe cases pneumonia, are similar to many other illnesses.

Australia, New Zealand and Britain were among the latest countries to announce they are planning evacuations.

The World Health Organization urged governments around the globe, including those as yet unaffected by the novel coronavirus outbreak, to be “on alert” and “take action” to prevent its spread.

“The whole world needs to be on alert now. The whole world needs to take action,” Michael Ryan, head of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, told reporters Wednesday in Geneva.

In this January 26, 2020, photo released by Xinhua News Agency, members of a military medical team head for Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei province. (Cheng Min/Xinhua via AP)

In China’s Hubei province, 17 cities including Wuhan have been locked down, trapping more than 50 million people in the most far-reaching disease control measures ever imposed.

The new virus is from the coronavirus family, which includes those that can cause the common cold as well as more serious illnesses such as SARS and MERS. As of December, MERS had sickened nearly 2,500 people since its identification in 2012.

The source of the new virus and the full extent of its spread are still unknown. However, the World Health Organization said most cases reported to date “have been milder, with around 20% of those infected experiencing severe illness.”

Scientists expect many crucial questions about the virus’ behavior will be answered in the coming weeks as the outbreak evolves and it becomes clearer how people are infected.

Although the Chinese health minister and others have suggested that the virus is spreading before people get symptoms, data to confirm that has not yet been shared widely beyond China.

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