1st known case of virus spreading between people in Israel

Israeli woman found with COVID-19 after husband returns from Italy with virus

Woman taken to Sheba Medical Center for treatment; Health Ministry releases more information on man’s movements prior to diagnosis, orders quarantine for those in close contact

An ambulance carrying an Israeli man who returned from Italy and tested positive for coronavirus arrives at Tel Hashomer Hospital, February 27, 2020 (Flash 90)
An ambulance carrying an Israeli man who returned from Italy and tested positive for coronavirus arrives at Tel Hashomer Hospital, February 27, 2020 (Flash 90)

The Health Ministry on Friday said that a second Israeli has been diagnosed with coronavirus after contact with a man who tested positive for COVID-19 following his return from Italy.

According to Hebrew media reports, the second person diagnosed with the virus is the man’s wife and she has been hospitalized at the Sheba Medical Center where she is reported to be in good condition.

The case is the first known person-to-person instance of the virus spreading in Israel outside of quarantine.

The man, Meir Cohen, was the first case of an Israeli having the deadly coronavirus who hasn’t already been in quarantine. Amid fears he may have infected others, the ministry traced his movements since returning to the country Sunday on El Al flight LY382 from Milan.

Staff inside a building at Sheba Medical Center which was converted to receive the Israelis who are under quarantine due to the coronavirus, February 20, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

It found he had also been at the Red Pirate toy store in Or Yehuda on Sunday between 6 and 10 p.m., and on Monday and Tuesday from 8:30 a.m. until midnight.

In addition, he attended the synagogue in the community of Irus on Monday between 6 and 7 a.m.

The ministry said anyone who was on the flight, or in the shop or synagogue during those specific hours and were less than 2 meters away from the man for over 15 minutes, must “immediately put themselves in home quarantine for 14 days and register on the Health Ministry website.”

Cohen on Friday evening told Channel 12 from his quarantine at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer 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 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.

The Ministry has a webpage 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.

Cohen lives in Irus, a community in the Gan Raveh Regional Council, located in the central region of the country.

He contacted medical services after he began to feel ill, was tested for the virus and found to be infected. He was quarantined Thursday at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, along with the Israeli passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was moored off the coast of Japan after the virus spread among those on board. Two of those passengers also tested positive for the virus after they had already been quarantined in Israel.

Dr. Galia Barkai at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan as it was being prepared to receive coronavirus patients on February 17, 2020. (Flash90)

Galia Barkai, the doctor treating Cohen at Sheba Medical Center, told Channel 12 news that he was brought by the Magen Dovid Adom ambulance service directly to the hospital’s quarantine compound and did not pass through any public hospital areas, either at the center or elsewhere.

Barkai said that when the patient first arrived he was given medication to lower his fever by a medical team wearing protective gear.

“When we saw that his condition was stable and good he was put into his room,” she said. “He seems okay, he understands the situation and is communicating with us” via remote means.

Following the discovery of Cohen’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.

According to the Ynet news site on Friday, 110 people have been told they could not enter Israel since the decision came into effect.

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.

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.

Passengers wearing protective masks walk through the arrival hall of Ben Gurion Airport on February 22, 2020. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

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 80,000 worldwide and claimed well over 2,500 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.

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