Israel bans foreigners coming from East Asian countries over virus fears
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Israel bans foreigners coming from East Asian countries over virus fears

Directive applies to travelers from Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau and Singapore; Foreign Ministry frets over diplomatic fallout from stringent measures to prevent outbreak

People wear face masks at Ben Gurion Airport following reports about the deadly coronavirus, February 17, 2020. (Avshalom Shoshani/Flash90)
People wear face masks at Ben Gurion Airport following reports about the deadly coronavirus, February 17, 2020. (Avshalom Shoshani/Flash90)

As part of efforts to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri on Monday said Israel would ban all non-Israelis who were in four East Asian countries and territories in the previous 14 days.

Until now, travelers coming from Thailand, Singapore, and the semi-autonomous Chinese cities of Hong Kong and Macau had to quarantine themselves for 14 days, under Health Ministry directives issued on Sunday.

The new restrictions by Deri were advised by the Health Ministry, Hebrew media reported.

As a result, Hong Kong’s national airline Cathay Pacific is set to announce that it is suspending all its flights to Israel, multiple reports said, quoting officials in the company as saying its employees will not be able to enter the Jewish state under the new rules.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, left, and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman visit medical personnel at Ben Gurion International Airport, following reports about the deadly coronavirus, February 2, 2020. (Avshalom Shoshani/ Flash90)

The Foreign Ministry is reportedly concerned about diplomatic fallout from the ban.

The Kan public broadcaster and Channel 12 quoted unnamed officials as fearing “revenge” steps by East Asian countries, given the extreme measures — more than those announced by any other country — that Israel has taken to protect against the virus entering the country.

Foreign Ministry officials are said to fear that those countries will now issue more frequent travel warnings about Israel after terror attacks, or that they will lower their degree of economic cooperation.

Earlier Monday, reports said that Israel’s national airline, El Al, was considering temporarily suspending all its flights to Thailand. It has already suspended flights to and from Hong Kong until February 20.

On Sunday, the Health Ministry instructed Israelis returning from Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Macau to self-quarantine for two weeks, amid concerns over the spread of the disease. Previously, only travelers coming from China were subject to such a self-quarantine.

Israel in late January banned foreign nationals recently in China from entering Israel by land or sea, as the death toll from the deadly new coronavirus shot up. At the time, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said the ban would remain in effect until further notice and that Israelis who visited China will need to be quarantined at home for two weeks.

Last week, Litzman advised against travel to Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, South Korea, and Taiwan.

The coronavirus, known officially as COVID-19, has infected over 70,000 worldwide and killed over 1,700 in China where it originated. There have also been deaths in several other countries.

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