The Tel Aviv municipality announced Tuesday it would allow some foreign athletes to participate in the city’s marathon on Friday, reversing an earlier decision to exclude them over fears of a coronavirus outbreak at the event.
The city said in a statement Tuesday that Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov had authorized the participation of any runners already in the country — but did not permit the inclusion of participants who had not yet arrived in Israel.
The ministry “approved the participation of international runners who are already in the country, diplomats and other foreign residents in the Tel Aviv Samsung Marathon this Friday, February 28,” the city said in a statement. “Marathon officials will contact the hundreds of relevant registrants.”
The change comes three days after the municipality said it had canceled the participation of all foreign runners, who would be reimbursed the registration fee. But many runners from abroad arrive several days before a race, so the city sought approval for those already in Israel to take part.
The estimated 40,000 local runners who have signed up will be allowed to take part in Friday’s race as planned.
The city said its decisions were in keeping with Health Ministry directives as officials sought to stem the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.
Israel has taken far-reaching steps to prevent an outbreak, including banning entry into the country to foreigners who recently visited China and a handful of East Asian countries, and forcing Israelis who visited the areas in the past 14 days into a two-week home quarantine.
Israel has confirmed two cases of coronavirus on its soil. Both were infected while passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship off the coast of Japan, and were brought back into the country last week and placed in a hospital quarantine along with nine other Israelis who were aboard the virus-struck ship.
Over the weekend, South Korea said that some of it nationals who had recently been in the Jewish state were found to be infected when they returned home, sparking panic and additional precautionary measures.
The announcement sent 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.
On Sunday, the Health Ministry told the Education Ministry that it should suspend all Israeli high school students’ educational trips to historical Holocaust sites in Poland, due to the global spread of the virus.
“Since the coronavirus is continuing to spread across the world, including to the European continent, and for the sake of preventative caution, it is appropriate at this time to suspend trips of students to Poland until the situation has become clear,” Bar Siman-Tov wrote Sunday to his Education Ministry counterpart at the Education Ministry, Shmuel Abuav.
Bar Siman-Tov said the Health Ministry will continue to monitor and assess the situation while keeping the Education Ministry informed of developments. Poland has yet to report any cases of the disease, but Tuesday saw the first announcements of confirmed infection in Austria and Croatia.
While the number of patients worldwide is increasing, some virus clusters have shown no link to China and experts are struggling to trace where those clusters started.
The Iranian health ministry said there were now 43 confirmed cases in Iran, but critics suggested the actual figure was much higher.
The virus has also gained a foothold in Italy, whose northern Lombardy region, which includes the nation’s financial capital Milan, now counts several hundred confirmed cases of infection. Italy as a whole now has 322 cases, including 11 deaths.
The new coronavirus strain, called COVID-19, began in China in December. Since then it has killed over 2,400 people in that country and tens of thousands have become infected.