Israeli coronavirus patient back from Italy apologizes ‘for any harm’

Migdal Ha’emek resident Roni Bargill says he was already in the country and was told to carry on normally when the Health Ministry issued directive to self-quarantine

People wearing face masks at Ben Gurion International Airport on February 27, 2020. (Photo by Flash90)
People wearing face masks at Ben Gurion International Airport on February 27, 2020. (Photo by Flash90)

An Israeli man who tested positive for the new coronavirus upon his return from Naples, Italy — making him the country’s seventh confirmed patient with the disease — issued an apology on Saturday and explained that he was already back in Israel when the Health Ministry ordered all those who had traveled to Italy to quarantine themselves.

The man, Roni Bargill, agreed to publicize his identity and issue a personal explanation of the events in a Facebook post (Hebrew). Bargill, a resident of the northern town of Migdal Ha’emek, had gone about his normal daily life and had come into contact with an untold number of people in the six days between his arrival back in Israel last Saturday and his hospitalized quarantine at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer on Friday.

The outbreak in Italy reached 888 cases as of Saturday, with 18 deaths so far. The spread was believed to have started in the north of the country in Milan, but has apparently spread all the way to Naples in the south.

Bargill wrote that upon landing in Israel last Saturday after a family trip to Naples, he had received clear instructions “from the qualified authorities that we should return to normal life and so we did.”

Health Ministry orders for anyone who traveled from Italy to enter into a 14-day quarantine at home came on Thursday, Bargill noted, and a Friday morning test at the hospital “revealed that I was carrying the virus, unfortunately.”

Roni Bargill, Israel’s seventh coronavirus patient. Photo: Bargill’s Facebook page

“I came into contact with people through no fault of my own and not on purpose, and so did my wife and son. We no idea until Thursday that this would have consequences for other people. We apologize in advance for any harm to anyone. This was done without meaning to,” he wrote.

Bargill said that he was currently in isolation at the Sheba Medical Center and felt well physically but was having in a “very difficult situation” mentally. “I hope everything will go well for me and my family… this is a story that is bigger than all of us and it is important to take things in the right proportions. I love you,” he signed off.

The Health Ministry on Saturday sent out an updated list of places Bargill had visited during his time since the flight on February 22 from Naples on easyJet flight U24849 and Friday. On Tuesday he had been at a grocery store in Migdal Ha’Emek between 9 and 10 a.m., and then at the Shufersal supermarket in the industrial area of the city between 5 and 6 p.m. Later that day, Bargill has gone to a gym between 6 and 8 p.m.

On Thursday, he had gone to Bank Discount in the city between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m. and visited the Ha’achuza restaurant in Afula between 2 and 3:30 p.m.

“Whoever was on the aforementioned flight as well as at the time and places noted for 15 minutes or more must immediately enter into home quarantine for 14 days,” the ministry said in a statement.

A second Israeli, unnamed, returned to the country on February 22 at 3 a.m. on Alitalia flight AZ810 from Rome’s Fiumicino airport. He stopped at 6:30 a.m. for 30 minutes at the Aroma coffee chain at the House of Pancakes gas station on Route 2.

Later that day, he stopped by an electronic goods store in the northern village of Sheikh Danun and a sporting goods store in Kiryat Ata between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

He was also at the Hummus Parliament restaurant at a Paz gas station in the northern coastal city of Nahariya between 11:30 a.m. and noon on Sunday.

The ministry said anyone who was on the flight with him or at those locations during those times must self-quarantine for two weeks.

The two were among four Israelis who tested positive for the virus between Thursday and Friday evenings, more than doubling the number of cases in the country from three.

Another Israeli passenger from a cruise ship hit by the coronavirus was diagnosed as a carrier of the pathogen Friday, hours after landing in the country on a commercial flight after being released from hospitalization in Japan.

It was not immediately clear why the man had been released while still carrying the virus. Media reports said he had been cleared by officials there as healthy.

An officer stands next to the Diamond Princess cruise ship on February 16, 2020, with an Israeli flag visible through a window of the ship. (Behrouz MEHRI / AFP)

The man returned to Israel on two Turkish Airlines flights via Istanbul. The Health Ministry instructed all passengers on the man’s flight that landed in Tel Aviv Friday morning, TK784, to self-quarantine for 14 days.

He was one of four Israelis who were held in Japan after being diagnosed with the virus. Two others have since been cleared and returned to Israel while one remains hospitalized.

Eleven other Israelis who were on the cruise ship were returned to Israel on a private jet after their tests for the virus came back negative, and were placed in quarantine at Sheba Medical Center. Two of the returnees have since tested positive for the virus.

The wife of a third man who returned from Italy days ago and tested positive for the virus, Meir Cohen, was also diagnosed with COVID-19 Friday. She has been hospitalized at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer where she is reported to be in good condition.

The case was the first known person-to-person instance of the virus spreading in Israel. Cohen was the first case of an Israeli having the deadly coronavirus who had not already been in quarantine.

Cohen on Friday evening told Channel 12 from his quarantine at Sheba Medical Center that “On Tuesday evening I started to feel a bit of a fever, a little dizziness, headaches. I just thought I had the flu.”

Cohen was provided with wine and challah bread by the hospital for Shabbat. He said doctors communicated with him via robots and video calls on a tablet.

“Everything is like ‘Back to the Future’ here,” he joked.

Professor Galia Rahavm, head of infectious diseases at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer shows one of the rooms where returning Israelis with suspected exposure to coronavirus will stay under observation and isolation, February 19, 2020. (Heidi Levine/Pool via AP)

The ministry has a web page where members of the public can register that they have self-quarantined. There is also a hotline, at *5400, that can be used for the same purpose.

“If, during the course of the quarantine, symptoms of fever, coughing, or difficulty breathing appear” the person should immediately call emergency services, the statement said.

After the discovery of the man’s infection, the Interior Ministry banned entry to all non-Israelis arriving in the country from Italy. Israelis coming from Italy will be allowed in but are already required to be quarantined at home for two weeks.

Following the decision, dozens of foreign nationals who had landed on flights from Italy were denied entry.

Israel has taken far-reaching steps to prevent an outbreak, banning entry to foreigners who were also in China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea and Japan in the 14 days prior to arriving, and compelling all Israelis recently in these areas to self-quarantine for 14 days.

Traveling wearing protective masks are seen at the arrival hall of Ben Gurion International Airport on February 27, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

In a dramatic statement Wednesday, the Health Ministry urged Israelis to seriously consider refraining from traveling abroad.

“If you don’t genuinely have to fly, don’t do so,” the ministry said in a travel warning.

Israel is 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 over 83,000 worldwide and claimed over 2,800 lives, almost all of them in China.

The Health Ministry has faced criticism for its extreme measures, with some saying it is unnecessarily panicking people and causing economic and diplomatic damage to the country. Ministry officials have said they prefer to take a strict line than be sorry later.

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