Israel’s Foreign Ministry on Sunday urged Israelis not to visit Japan and South Korea over fears of exposure to the COVID-19 virus.
“We recommend that Israelis weigh seriously any travel to South Korea at this time, and completely avoid the areas of Daegu, Cheongdo,” the ministry said in a statement, referring to areas that have seen a surge of infections by the coronavirus strain.
The travel advisory also recommended that Israelis currently in South Korea consider leaving the country.
Starting Monday, Israel will also ban all foreign nationals who have been to South Korea and Japan in the past 14 days from entering the country. Israel is already denying entry to visitors from China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand and Singapore, and is apparently the only country to have taken such drastic steps so far to contain the virus.
The report came a day after the Health Ministry said nine South Korean tourists recently in Israel had tested positive for the coronavirus, sending hundreds of Israelis who were in proximity to the travelers into home quarantine. Some 200 Israeli students and teachers were instructed to enter isolation due to being in several tourist sites at the same time as the group. The South Korean tourists were diagnosed upon returning home.
Earlier Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered that all South Koreans in Israel be quickly flown out of the country, according to Channel 12 news. The report, which did not cite a source, was not immediately confirmed.
Concerning Japan, the Foreign Ministry said Israelis should avoid any nonessential travel there.
Israeli citizens returning from South Korea and Japan or who were there in the last 14 days must quarantine themselves at home for two weeks upon their return, the ministry said.
The Israeli embassies in Seoul and Japan will continue operations as usual, it said.
The news came as South Korea’s president said Sunday that he was putting his country on its highest alert for infectious diseases and ordered officials to take “unprecedented, powerful” steps to fight a soaring viral outbreak that has infected more than 600 people in the country, mostly in the last few days.
China also reported hundreds of more infections for a total of about 77,000, and Iran raised its death toll from the virus to eight — the highest toll outside of China. While the number of patients worldwide is increasing, some virus clusters have shown no link to China and experts are struggling to trace where those clusters started.
The Iranian health ministry said there were now 43 confirmed cases in Iran, which did not report its first case of the virus until Wednesday.
Israel’s neighbor Jordan has likewise announced it was denying entry of non-Jordanians coming from Iran and South Korea, on top of a previous ban on those coming from China. Nationals arriving from those countries will be quarantined.
The virus has also gained a foothold in Italy, whose northern Lombardy region, which includes the nation’s financial capital Milan, now counts 89 confirmed cases of infection. Italy as a whole now has 132 cases, including two deaths.
The Israeli Health Ministry also said Sunday that any Israelis returning from Italy, Australia and Taiwan who develop symptoms of illness must be examined according to procedures detailed on its website.
Venice, which is full of tourists for Carnival events, reported its first two cases, said Veneto Gov. Luca Zaia, whose region includes the lagoon city. It wasn’t immediately known if the two infected had participated in Carnival festivities.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Sunday his government had decided to increase its anti-virus alert level by one notch to “Red,” the highest level. The step was last taken in 2009 to guard against an influenza outbreak that killed more than 260 people in South Korea. Under the highest alert level, authorities can order the temporary closure of schools and reduce the operation of public transportation and flights to and from South Korea.
Moon’s education minister, Yoo Eun-hae, said later Sunday that the new school year for kindergartens, elementary, middle and high schools in South Korea has been put off by one week and will start on March 9.
Moon said that the outbreak “has reached a crucial watershed,” and that the next few days will be “critical.” “We shouldn’t be bound by regulations and hesitate to take unprecedented, powerful measures,” he said.
South Korea announced 169 more cases of the new virus, bringing the country’s total to 602. The country also reported three more fatalities, raising its death toll to six.
Mainland China reported 648 new infections for a total of 76,936. The daily death toll fell slightly to 97. In all, 2,442 people have died in the country from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
The number of new Chinese cases has seesawed daily but has remained under 1,000 for the past four days. Several changes to how the infections are counted, however, have made it difficult to draw conclusions from the figures.
The central Chinese city of Wuhan and other parts of Hubei province, where the outbreak first emerged in December, remain under lockdown. More than 80% of the country’s cases are in Hubei, where the death toll has also been higher than in the rest of the nation.