Thailand asks Israel to reconsider entry ban over virus concerns

Jerusalem instituted the most sweeping entry restrictions in the world in bid to keep COVID-19 pathogen from entering country

Commuters wearing face masks are mirrored in a subway station in Bangkok, Thailand, February 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)
Commuters wearing face masks are mirrored in a subway station in Bangkok, Thailand, February 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Thailand’s government is scrambling to cope with new travel restrictions after Israel banned the citizens of Thailand and three other Asian countries and territories from entering over concerns about a new virus.

Israel on Monday announced it was refusing entry to all foreign nationals who had traveled to Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau during the past 14 days. Israeli citizens and residents will be isolated at home for 14 days after their return from areas at risk.

Israel has so far confirmed no cases of COVID-19 infections inside the country.

Thai Foreign Ministry Deputy Spokesman Natapanu Nopakun said the ambassador in Tel Aviv had asked Israel to review its decision to ban Thais.

“We believe that Israel will reconsider the decision as Thailand isn’t the only country affected from the announcement,” he told The Associated Press.

Thai agricultural workers working in a cabbage field near Kibbutz Beerim in southern Israel. July 16, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israel had already in late January imposed a similar ban on foreign nationals entering from China.

The latest ban could inconvenience business travelers from Singapore, which like Israel is a major hub for high-tech projects.

The consequences for Thailand could be more substantial. About 25,000 Thai workers are employed in Israel, mostly in the agricultural sector. In many cases they are the main breadwinners for their families in Thailand’s economically disadvantaged northeast.

Separately, the Consular Affairs Department of Thailand’s Foreign Ministry urged Thais “who don’t have a need to live in China to consider traveling out of China while airlines still operate, and to refrain from traveling to China if it isn’t necessary at the moment.”

The statement didn’t apply to Hong Kong. The ministry said it was a normal travel advisory and did not amount to any order or instruction.

While no cases have been reported in Israel, patients have been diagnosed with the virus in Egypt and Iran.

Israel now has some of the strictest entry restrictions in place. While non-Israelis from the four East Asian countries are banned from Israel, Israelis and Israeli residents are required to quarantine themselves in their homes for 14 days after arriving back in Israel.

Israeli Foreign Ministry officials have raised concerns that Israel’s drastic measures — not taken by any other country — could impact diplomatic relations with some nations.

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