Israel’s coronavirus cases more than double within a day, from 3 to 7 patients

Two returnees from Italy found to carry deadly pathogen; passenger on cruise ship who was hospitalized in Japan with virus but then cleared found to still have it upon return

Workers disinfect a toy shop in Or Yehuda, after a man who works at the shop and returned from Italy tested positive for coronavirus February 28, 2020 (Flash90)
Workers disinfect a toy shop in Or Yehuda, after a man who works at the shop and returned from Italy tested positive for coronavirus February 28, 2020 (Flash90)

Israel’s cases of coronavirus patients more than doubled in less than a day, from three people diagnosed with the virus on Thursday evening to seven 24 hours later, and amid efforts by the Health Ministry to contain the spread of the pathogen among those with which the newly diagnosed patients had come into contact.

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.

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 is 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.

In this January 10, 2017, photo, Turkish Airlines aircraft are stationed at Ataturk International Airport covered in snow, in Istanbul, Turkey. (Faik Kaptan/Depo Photos via AP)

Meanwhile officials said two other men who had returned from Italy recently had been diagnosed with the virus — making them the sixth and seventh Israelis confirmed to contract the disease.

And 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 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.

Amid fears Cohen 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 and costume store in Or Yehuda, his place of work, on Sunday between 6 and 10 p.m., and on Monday and Tuesday from 8:30 a.m. until midnight.

In all Cohen spent about 30 hours at the shop at the height of costume sales for the holiday of Purim.

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

The Health 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 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.

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.

Following 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.

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

According to the Ynet news site on Friday, 110 people were 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.

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. Ministry officials have said they prefer to take a strict line than be sorry later.

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