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Hospital department head, Health Ministry official diagnosed with coronavirus

Tel Aviv doctor’s patients, staff in contact with her quarantined; nationwide, 18 medical workers have disease and 2,593 more are in quarantine after possible exposure

Illustrative: Workers inside a building at Tel Aviv's Tel Hashomer Hospital, which was converted into a coronavirus isolation unit, February 20, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Illustrative: Workers inside a building at Tel Aviv's Tel Hashomer Hospital, which was converted into a coronavirus isolation unit, February 20, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

A department head at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv was diagnosed with the new coronavirus, the hospital said in a statement Sunday.

The doctor initially had minor symptoms, but then her temperature rose and she was tested positive for the virus, the hospital said.

All staff who came in contact with her, as well as patients who were exposed to her recently, including those who had already been released from the hospital, have been quarantined. The patients who were still being treated in the hospital when the case was diagnosed were moved to a more isolated ward.

None of the doctor’s patients at the hospital were known to have the disease before her diagnosis, raising speculation that she was infected by a family member, Channel 12 news reported, citing hospital sources.

The Health Ministry said Sunday that 2,593 medical workers are now in quarantine due to the coronavirus, with 18 confirmed to be infected.

Among them was the deputy head of the Health Ministry’s main epidemiological lab in central Israel. The woman was said to be in good condition and the 18 other lab workers were placed into quarantine, according to Channel 12.

The infected also included seven doctors, four nurses, three logistic staff, two emergency medicine medics, a pharmacist, and a physiotherapist.

The others in quarantine were ordered to self-isolate at home due to concerns they were exposed to the virus after coming in contact with an infected person.

Amid the rising number of medical professionals to be infected,  a television report said Sunday that Israel possesses powerful protective suits designed for use in case of chemical warfare. According to Channel 12, while these kind of suits have been used by Chinese doctors, Israel’s health and defense ministries are opposed to their use to treat COVID-19. Government officials were reportedly concerned the suits were too unwieldy and could contribute to the spread of the disease.

A total of 213 Israelis have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, the ministry statement said. Two are in a serious condition and 12 are considered moderate. Another 195 have light symptoms and four have recovered from the disease, which has symptoms including fever and breathing difficulties.

The developments came as over the weekend the government ordered strict measures aimed at curbing a spread of the virus, with gatherings in enclosed areas limited to just 10 people and and leisure sites across the country closed down. Schools, universities, kindergartens and daycare centers have also been shuttered.

In all, nearly 40,000 Israelis were in home quarantine for fear of exposure to the virus, including nearly 1,000 doctors, more than 600 nurses, 170 paramedics, and 80 pharmacists, according to Health Ministry figures. Health officials have conducted over 6,800 coronavirus tests nationwide so far, according to the ministry.

To curb the spread of the virus in the country, all Israelis returning from overseas are required to quarantine at home for 14 days. Non-Israeli nationals were barred from entering the country as of March 12, unless they can demonstrate an ability to self-quarantine for two weeks.

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