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Virus case of unknown origin visited nursing home; 3 new cases confirmed

Health Ministry calls on anyone who was at the same places as the patient during the times he was there to self-quarantine; tally in Israel jumps to 42 cases

A Magen David Adom paramedic wearing protective gear as a preventive measure against the coronavirus, outside a special emergency call center in Kiryat Ono, February 26, 2020. (Flash90)
A Magen David Adom paramedic wearing protective gear as a preventive measure against the coronavirus, outside a special emergency call center in Kiryat Ono, February 26, 2020. (Flash90)

A man who contracted the COVID-19 virus from an unknown source visited a synagogue, malls, and an old age home before being flagged with the pathogen, the Health Ministry said Monday.

The ministry also confirmed three new cases of the novel coronavirus Monday evening, bringing Israel’s tally to 42.

Officials said Sunday that they had found the virus in a man who had not been abroad or knowingly come into contact with any other infected person, the first such case in Israel since the outbreak.

The case has raised concerns about the extent to which Israel can contain the spread of the virus and whether there were people carrying the coronavirus unawares who could infect others.

The man, a resident of central Israel in his 40s, is a medic for the Magen David Adom emergency service.

The ministry said Monday that on February 28, the man attended services at a Chabad synagogue in the northern West Bank settlement of Einav between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., and was also there the next morning between 10:30 p.m. and 12:30 p.m.

On March 1, he was at the Osher Ad supermarket in Petah Tikva between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Later that same evening, he visited numerous stores in the Ofer Grand Mall between 7:30 p.m. and 9 p.m., including Gali, Zara, Aldo, Spring, Oshi Oshi and the New Delhi cafe.

During election day, March 2, he was at a voting station in Einav between 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.

The Rav Shefa mall in Jerusalem (Screen capture: Google Maps)

The next day, he traveled to Jerusalem, where between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., he was at the Neve Orah nursing home’s unit for the mentally frail. From there he went to the city’s Rav Shefa Mall, where between 12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. he visited a store for Purim accessories and a pretzel shop.

The ministry did not publish further details about where he traveled until March 7, when it said he attended morning prayer services at a Hasidic synagogue in the Jerusalem-area town of Kiryat Yearim between 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m.

That evening, between 7:30 p.m. and 8 p.m., he was examined at a medical center in the central city of Elad.

The Health Ministry called on anyone who was at the locations during those times to quarantine at home and report this to the ministry.

It also said an epidemiology investigation was continuing and that it would publish any new details about the case as it was learned.

Besides this patient, the ministry has been able to track the source of all other coronavirus cases in Israel.

The ministry said later Monday that it had found three new cases, including two Tel Aviv men who flew to Zurich, Switzerland and took cars to Austria.

One man took a plane from Tel Aviv on February 23 and returned on March 2. The second man took a flight on February 29 and returned on March 6. It is not clear whether there is any connection between them.

Case 42 involves  a patient who flew to Madrid and returned on March 3. Before entering quarantine, he went to the Maplim hall in Rishon Letzion on March 3 from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.

The next day, he was at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. and visited the Shimorey Ichut supermarket in Holon from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

A worker at the Israeli embassy in Athens and two family members have also tested positive for the virus.

The Israeli Embassy in Athens (screen capture: YouTube)

In a briefing last week, the director-general of the World Health Organization warned that some countries were experiencing “community transmission,” in which the spread of the virus cannot be directly linked to known cases.

“Our view continues to be that containment of COVID-19 must be the top priority for all countries, but at the same time, countries should be preparing for sustained community transmission,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Speaking to reporters Monday, Ghebreyesus warned that there was now a “very real” threat the global coronavirus outbreak will become a pandemic, but stressed that the virus could still be controlled.

“The threat of a pandemic has become very real,” Ghebreyesus said, while stressing that “it would be the first pandemic in history that can be controlled… we are not at the mercy of the virus.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman hold a video conference with European leaders at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, on March 9, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Sunday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a press conference that if Israel decides to expand the list of countries from which returning travelers will be required to enter home quarantine for 14 days, the directive will cover the entire world, adding that a decision on the matter would be made in the coming hours.

Despite expectation that Netanyahu would announce a directive against passengers returning from the US, or at least particular states where the highest number of cases have been documented, he avoided doing so.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said Monday that he expected the quarantine rules to be expanded later in the day.

AFP contributed to this report.

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