Health Ministry: Illegal to make quarantined staff go to work after China trips

Amid concerns over spread of coronavirus, official warns firms against forcing employees to come to work during period they are required to self-quarantine

Illustrative: Medical personnel check travelers arriving at the Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport from Cairo for the Ebola viruson October 20, 2014. (Flash90)
Illustrative: Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman Tov attends a discussion of the Knesset Labor, Welfare, and Health Committee on August 16, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Monday said it will be illegal for companies to force employees who recently returned from China to come into work during the two-week period after they come back as part of efforts to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Israel is requiring anyone who was in China in the past two weeks to self-quarantine and avoid public places for 14 days to ensure they are not infected with, or spread, the new virus, which has killed over 360 people.

“We also have enforcement measures and we can operate Health Ministry inspectors and also get to employers,” Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, director-general of the Health Ministry, told Channel 12 news.

He did not specify what the penalty for companies would be.

Bar Siman-Tov said those who were in China would receive permission from the ministry to be exempt from going into work during the quarantine period.

“We at the ministry see the public as a central partner in our actions to prevent the spread of the disease and only together can we all contend with it,” he wrote on Twitter.

Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman Tov attends a discussion of the Knesset Labor, Welfare, and Health Committee on August 16, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Israel has taken a number of measures in recent days to prevent the spread of the virus, including barring foreign nationals recently in China from entering Israel.

Despite reports that Israelis who returned recently from China — including Israeli embassy employees — were not inspected or told to quarantine themselves at home, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman insisted Sunday that “we are taking this crisis very seriously.”

Bar Siman-Tov has warned “it is likely only a matter of time until it reaches us.”

Since emerging from the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, the new coronavirus has infected more than 17,200 people across China and reached 24 nations.

China’s death toll from the coronavirus epidemic soared past 360 on Monday, with deepening global concern about the outbreak and governments closing their borders to people from China.

The fresh toll came a day after China imposed a lockdown on a major city far from the epicentre and the first fatality outside the country was reported in the Philippines.

Medical staff in protective clothes are seen carrying a patient from an apartment suspected of having the virus in Wuhan, in Hubei province on January 30, 2020. (Hector Retamal/AFP)

Authorities in Hubei, the province at the center of the outbreak, reported 56 new fatalities, with one reported in the southwestern megalopolis of Chongqing. That took the toll in China to 361, exceeding the 349 mainland fatalities from the 2002-3 SARS outbreak.

Most of the infections overseas have been detected in people who traveled from Wuhan, an industrial hub of 11 million people, or surrounding areas of Hubei province.

The man who died in the Philippines was a 44-year-old from Wuhan, according to the World Health Organization, which has declared the epidemic a global health emergency.

China has embarked on unprecedented efforts to contain the virus, which is believed to have jumped to humans from a Wuhan animal market, and can be transmitted among people.

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