Israel begins restrictions on visitors from 5 European nations over virus fears

Visitors from Germany, Austria, France, Spain and Switzerland barred, but officials have indicated could let people in or allow them to stay if they have a place to self-quarantine

ILLUSTRATIVE -- People wearing face masks for fear of the coronavirus at the Ben Gurion International Airport on February 27, 2020 (Flash90)
ILLUSTRATIVE -- People wearing face masks for fear of the coronavirus at the Ben Gurion International Airport on February 27, 2020 (Flash90)

Israel on Friday morning began restrictions on the entry of non-nationals coming from a slew of European countries, as the country continued its wide-reaching measures to attempt to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Foreign visitors from Germany, Austria, France, Spain and Switzerland were barred from 8 a.m. Friday morning, and travelers from those places already in Israel are to “gradually leave,” said the Population Authority in a statement.

However officials have indicated it could let people in or allow them to stay if they prove they have a place to self-quarantine for 14 days.

All Israelis returning from those five European countries were instructed Wednesday to enter self-quarantine for a period of 14 days after their last day in those nations. The decision applied retroactively to all who have come from those countries in the last 14 days.

Empty departure halls at Ben Gurion Airport. on March 4, 2020. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Between 50,000 and 80,000 Israelis are now reported to be in self-quarantine and large events such as concerts and sporting matches have been canceled due to directives issued by the Health Ministry.

Those staying in solitary confinement must stay in a closed room, and are prohibited from leaving the house or coming into contact with other people, Channel 13 reported. Quarantined individuals may share a room with others in isolation, but must not come into contact with other residents of the home.

The Israel Police announced Thursday that it had begun a crackdown on citizens who are violating its far-reaching restrictions. Police said in a statement that they had opened eight criminal investigations against Israelis who have violated the state’s home quarantine rules or misled Health Ministry inspectors.

According to Channel 12, those who violate the state directives could face up to seven years in prison.

Two more Israelis have been diagnosed with COVID-19, bringing the number of cases of the virus in the country to 17, the Health Ministry said Thursday. One patient was hospitalized in the Poriya Medical Center in northern Israel, near Tiberias, in an isolated unit.

Palestinian security forces wear masks and disinfect their hands next to a hotel that has been sealed off in the town of Beit Jala, south of Jerusalem, following confirmed cases of coronavirus COVID-19, on March 5, 2020. (Musa Al Shaer/AFP)

Hebrew-language media reported that the man was a bus driver who last month drove a group of Greek tourists visiting Israel, also going to the West Bank and Egypt before returning home. Twenty-three of the tourists have since been diagnosed with the coronavirus. The Ynet news site reported Friday that the bus driver has a chronic kidney illness.

The Palestinian Authority said Thursday that seven people at a hotel in the Bethlehem area were suspected of having been infected with the coronavirus by the tourists.

Israel previously banned entry to foreigners who were in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Italy in the 14 days prior to arriving, and compelled all Israelis recently in those areas to self-quarantine for two weeks.

Israel was the first country to urge its citizens to refrain from international travel entirely because of the outbreak, which started in China in December and has since infected nearly 100,000 in about 85 nations and claimed over 3,200 lives, almost all of them in China.

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