Member of Israeli virus research team in India confirmed infected on flight home
All delegation members to quarantine for 14 days

Member of Israeli virus research team in India confirmed infected on flight home

Plane continues scheduled route after person tests positive for coronavirus during refueling stop in Ethiopia; Ashkenazi talks with Pompeo, other FMs about coronavirus fight

An Indian COVID-19 patient provides samples to a medic helping Israel's coronavirus mission to India. (Defense Ministry Spokesperson’s Office)
An Indian COVID-19 patient provides samples to a medic helping Israel's coronavirus mission to India. (Defense Ministry Spokesperson’s Office)

An Israeli delegation that was in India for coronavirus research discovered that one of its members was infected on Thursday, while the team was traveling back to Israel.

The person was confirmed to be sick while the plane was refueling in Ethiopia, the Ynet news site reported. The delegation decided to continue on its scheduled route back to Israel.

The flight crew carried out procedures to minimize risk, including isolating the infected person on the plane and separating him out for transportation to quarantine upon landing.

The delegation, which included scientists from the Defense Ministry, Israel Defense Forces and Health Ministry, as well as representatives from the Foreign Ministry, was tested for the virus before takeoff in New Delhi.

The plane left India before the test results came back. The infected person likely wouldn’t have been allowed to board the plane if the results had come back before takeoff, according to Ynet.

Members of Israel’s coronavirus mission to India, in Delhi. (Defense Ministry Spokesperson’s Office)

The other delegation members, like all entrees into Israel, will quarantine for 14 days. They will undergo additional coronavirus tests due to their proximity to an infected person on the flight.

“The activities in India were under international research standards and the delegation acted under strict guidelines and regulations to ensure the health and safety of all involved,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement Thursday.

The Defense Ministry said the delegation had undergone testing every three days while in India, and that the infected person was in good condition.

The delegation collected samples from 20,000 coronavirus patients during nine days in India, saying the data could facilitate new express testing methods to help societies return to their routines in the shadow of the pandemic.

Working with the Indian authorities, the Israeli team asked people who had previously tested positive to take another swab test, and also provide three other samples: breath, a recording of their voice, and saliva.

A health worker taking a swab test of a woman is seen through the window of a parked car in Mumbai, India, July 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

Attempts are underway in Israel to develop quick-turnaround coronavirus testing tech that eliminates the lengthy process of taking swabs from the nose or throat to labs for analysis, and scientists need large numbers of samples to accurately develop their tests.

As India has more than 585,000 active coronavirus cases, compared to Israel’s 25,800, it is a plentiful source of samples. The India mission was expected to push forward development of the new testing methods.

It collected samples at six new drive-in sites in Delhi, run by Indian volunteers recruited by local authorities, and set up two labs for data processing using technology brought from Israel. The delegation also delivered medical equipment to India.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Blue and White MK Gabi Ashkenazi in Jerusalem on May 13, 2020. (US Embassy)

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi spoke on Friday with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and the foreign ministers of India, Brazil, South Korea and Australia. The group discussed the international struggle against the virus, and cooperative efforts in developing a vaccine.

“The struggle against the coronavirus pandemic is a global struggle that crosses borders and continents. I see immense importance in the cooperation with many countries that are partners with us in the struggle,” Ashkenazi said.

Pompeo said following the call, “We must work together to safely reopen our economies, prevent future pandemics, and counter disinformation.”

The Walla news site said the call included talks on reopening air travel and solutions for the tourism industry.

Nathan Jeffay and Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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