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Israel bars all flights from China as death toll there from virus tops 170

World acts to halt spread of coronavirus; health minister says Israelis who recently returned from China will be required to self-quarantine

A woman wears a face mask in the arrivals hall of Ben Gurion Airport on January 28, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
A woman wears a face mask in the arrivals hall of Ben Gurion Airport on January 28, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman on Thursday said Israel will not allow further flights into the country from China amid concerns over the spread of the deadly new coronavirus.

Speaking at a press conference at the Health Ministry, Litzman said the ban would remain in effect until further notice.

Litzman also said Israelis who visit China will need to be quarantined at home for two weeks.

Those asked to remain at home will receive unpaid vacation time, Litzman added, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

It was not immediately clear how authorities would enforce this self-quarantine policy.

According to the Ynet news site, an Israeli woman was forcibly quarantined after being hospitalized for a suspected coronavirus outbreak at Tel Hashomer’s Sheba Medical Center. The site also reported that 28 Israelis are among the passengers currently being held in a ship off the Italian coast due to concerns over the virus.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman at a press conference on January 17, 2020. (Flash90)

Litzman’s announcement came after El Al said earlier in the day it was pausing flights to China for a two-month period due to the outbreak of the virus, which has killed 170 people there and infected thousands of others.

According to Hebrew media reports, two more flights will land in Israel from China tonight and tomorrow morning — and will be the last flights until at least March 25.

A Hainan Airlines flight grounded in Beijing before it could take off has now been released. It will land in Israel overnight. A second flight, by the Israeli airline El Al, will take off tonight and land in Israel tomorrow morning. It carries 100 passengers.

At least 7,800 people in China have been diagnosed with coronavirus since the outbreak began in December.

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 suspended rail travel to and from the mainland.

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

European countries stepped up efforts Thursday to contain the virus, sending a chartered plane there to evacuate hundreds of citizens, scrapping more commercial flights to Chinese destinations and closing Russia’s long border with the Asian giant.

People wearing protective facemasks walk out of a supermarket with their groceries in Beijing on January 30, 2020. (Nicolas Asfouri/AFP)

The new type of coronavirus first appeared in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December. It causes flu-like symptoms, such as cough and fever and in severe cases pneumonia, that are similar to many other illnesses. It 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.

The death toll from the virus so far 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.

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.

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