Travelers from Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau ordered to self-quarantine

Health Ministry expands directives to contain outbreak; El Al reduces flights to Bangkok

A woman wears face mask at the arrival hall of the Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv, January 30, 2020.(Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
A woman wears face mask at the arrival hall of the Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv, January 30, 2020.(Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Health Ministry on Sunday said Israelis returning from four destinations in East Asia will now be required to self-quarantine for two weeks amid concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Travelers to Thailand, Singapore and the semi-autonomous Chinese cities of Hong Kong and Macau must remain in isolation, the ministry said. Previously, only travelers coming from China were subject to such a self-quarantine.

“Starting today, anyone who returned from these countries will be in isolation at home until 14 days from the date of return,” the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry added that the new guidelines were meant “to prevent as much as possible [the virus’s] spread in Israel.”

Israel’s national carrier El Al announced on Sunday it was reducing its flights to Bangkok, a popular vacation destination for Israelis, by 50 percent. El Al said in January it was pausing flights to China for a two-month period due to the outbreak of the virus.

Israel in late January banned foreign nationals recently in China from entering Israel by land or sea, as the death toll from the deadly new coronavirus shot up. At the time, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said the ban would remain in effect until further notice and that Israelis who visited China will need to be quarantined at home for two weeks.

Earlier Sunday, the Health Ministry said that two Israeli passengers aboard a quarantined cruise ship off Japan tested positive for the virus, which has infected over 69,000 worldwide and killed over 1,600.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman attends an emergency meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on February 13, 2020. (Flash90)

The ministry had initially said there were three Israeli passengers infected with the virus but later downgraded the figure, adding that the two infected passengers were a couple. The Health Ministry said in a statement that it had learned from Japanese authorities that the Israelis were showing only mild symptoms. The ministry said that several other Israeli passengers were being tested for the virus.

The Foreign Ministry said two of the Israeli passengers had been taken off the ship to receive treatment and confirmed that those two had tested positive for the virus.

Also Sunday, Japan’s health minister said the number of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus on the quarantined ship off Japan’s coast had risen to 355.

“So far, we have conducted tests for 1,219 individuals. Of those, 355 people tested positive. Of those, 73 individuals are not showing symptoms,” Katsunobu Kato told a roundtable discussion on public broadcaster NHK. The number was a rise of 70 from the last government toll.

Members of Japan Self Defense Forces walk into the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess in the Yokohama Port, Feb. 9, 2020, in Yokohama, Japan (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

Following the development, panic and resentment were spreading among the remaining Israelis aboard the ship.

One of them, Shalva Dahan, called on Israel to urgently take them off and criticized authorities for allegedly keeping them in the dark.

“Take us from here, throw us in some hangar in Israel,” she told the Walla news site. “I don’t care if I’m there for a month, but why leave us here, why not update us with what’s happening? Why do we have to get updates from the news? I saw what was going on on the deck — many ambulances, army, police. I said, enough, I’m going to my room, I don’t want to see this anymore.”

“I’m nervous, I don’t know what’s happening,” said Lena Samuelov to public broadcaster Kan. “Everyone I know on the ship is not infected.”

Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday, Netanyahu pledged the Israelis on board the Diamond Princess who were not diagnosed with the virus would soon be allowed to return home.

“Those who have not been infected will come to Israel and enter into isolation. Those who have been infected are remaining there, in accordance with a Japanese government decision. We have sent a doctor to help them. Of course, we are all praying for their wellbeing,” said Netanyahu.

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