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Israel may quarantine travelers from Italy, Australia over coronavirus

Health minister recommends against travel to Italy, says not afraid to enforce quarantines; president, currently visiting Australia, to keep itinerary unchanged

President Reuven Rivlin visits the wildlife hospital at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, February 23, 2020 (Kobi Gideon / GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin visits the wildlife hospital at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, February 23, 2020 (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Health Minster Yaakov Litzman announced Monday that Israel is considering implementing a quarantine on travelers returning from Italy and Australia amid outbreaks of the new coronavirus in both those places.

It was unclear whether this would translate into a ban on non-Israeli nationals and residents from those countries.

“We recommend Israelis don’t travel to Italy. We are checking to determine whether Italy and Australia will become countries whose returnees will enter isolation upon arrival in Israel,” Litzman told Army Radio.

“We aren’t afraid to enforce quarantines,” he added, in apparent reference to possible diplomatic fallout from the measures.

President Reuven Rivlin is currently on his first official visit to Australia. His office said he did not plan on changing his itinerary in light of the outbreak.

According to the Australian Health Ministry, there are 22 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country, seven of whom were on the repatriation flight from Japan for passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

In Italy, more than 150 people have been infected and three have died of coronavirus. More than 50,000 people in about a dozen northern Italian towns have been told to stay home, and police set up checkpoints to enforce a blockade.

The Health Ministry 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.

On Sunday the ministry announced that a second Israeli was diagnosed with the coronavirus after returning to the country from Japan, where he spent two weeks quarantined on a cruise ship where the disease had rapidly spread. The Health Ministry stressed that the patient, who is being treated at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, did not contract the virus in Israel.

Israelis who were aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off Japan are seen on a plane bringing them to Israel, February 20, 2020. (Israeli Embassy in Japan)

Fifteen Israelis were among some 3,700 who were kept on the ship for two weeks off the coast of Japan after a passenger, who had already disembarked in Hong Kong, was found to be infected.

Four Israelis contracted the disease while on the ship and are being treated in special medical centers in Japan. They are all said to be in a good condition. The remaining 11 arrived back in Israel on Friday morning.

Later that day, one of the passengers was diagnosed with the disease, making that person the first case to be reported inside Israel.

Israel has taken far-reaching steps to prevent an outbreak, and the Tel Aviv municipality on Sunday said it would not allow athletes from abroad to participate in the city’s marathon on Friday over fears of a coronavirus outbreak at the event.

The Tel Aviv Marathon, 2019 (Samsung Marathon Tel Aviv)

The municipality said in a statement that the 40,000 local runners who have signed up will be allowed to take part in Friday’s contest, as planned. Those who were planning on coming from abroad to run the marathon will be reimbursed. The city said it was following Health Ministry directives.

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.

Market workers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant at a market in the southeastern city of Daegu, South Korea, on February 23, 2020, as a preventive measure after the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak. (YONHAP / AFP)

South Korea has seen a rapid surge in infections since a cluster emerged from a religious sect in the southern city of Daegu last week. Another 161 infections and two more deaths were reported in South Korea on Monday, bringing the total cases to more than 700 people — the most outside China.

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.

On Saturday 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 Health Ministry published the itinerary of the group’s trip through Israel and the West Bank. The South Korean tourists were diagnosed upon returning home.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) holds a situation assessment with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman (R) regarding the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak at the Health Ministry in Tel Aviv on February 23, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

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.

El Al has said that although it has had to suspend multiple lines to the the Far East, it still plans to inaugurate its new Tokyo route next month, according to a statement on the airline’s website.

However, according to the Globes daily, it still may scotch the planned opening of the route.

Medical staff checking passengers arriving from Iran in the airport in Najaf, Iraq, February 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Anmar Khalil)

Iran’s confirmed death toll rose to 50 on Monday, with the outbreak prompting travel bans from nearby countries.

Bahrain and Kuwait announced on Monday their first cases of the virus, health ministries in the two Gulf states announced, adding that all had come from Iran. Kuwait reported three infections and Bahrain one.

Israel’s neighbor Jordan has 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.

All visitors to the Hashemite kingdom will undergo chest and throat examinations and  have their temperatures taken, Adnan Ishaq, the ministry’s assistant secretary-general for healthcare, told the Jordanian state-funded Al Mamlaka TV.

The coronavirus, known officially as COVID-19, began in China in December.

The number of fatalities in China has continued to soar, with 150 more confirmed deaths taking the official death toll to nearly 2,600 Monday.

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