The Health Ministry on Wednesday announced multiple new cases of Israelis found to be carrying the coronavirus, as the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country climbed to 79 total. The number is expected to rise throughout the day.
One of those diagnosed was a worker at Ben Gurion Airport who worked managing fire detection systems. His family said he was admitted to Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital on Sunday with flu-like symptoms, but was released the next day without testing for the virus even though he asked to be tested.
The man was neither isolated at the hospital nor after his initial release, and was only finally tested for the coronavirus on Tuesday when he was readmitted with pneumonia.
“I implored them to test him for corona[virus]” when he was first admitted, his wife told Army Radio. “I was worried he was going to infect half the hospital.”
According to current protocols, testing is only carried out on those who have traveled abroad or knowingly been in contact with someone carrying the virus; it is unknown how the man contracted it, but his relatives said they stressed to hospital staff that he works at the airport.
The Israel Airports Authority said the employee had not been at any of their facilities for the past 10 days, but workers who came into contact with him at that time have been told to go into quarantine.
The Health Ministry and Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi announced Wednesday that another of those infected was Rabbi Dov Singer, the head of the Makor Haim yeshiva, a religious high school for boys in the West Bank.
Singer was said to be in a good condition.
Another new case announced Wednesday was a woman in her 40s from the Ma’ale Adumim settlement. The Health Ministry said she flew to Paris on February 27 on an El Al flight and returned to Israel on March 1. She was at a polling station in Ma’ale Adumim and a number of stores in the settlement in the days after her return.
On Monday, Israel drastically ratcheted up its efforts to protect the country from the coronavirus threat, requiring all those arriving from abroad to go into quarantine, but with no specific provisions for those working at airports or who may have transported those travelers.
The ministry announced details of 12 cases on late Tuesday evening, including a 9-year-old Tel Aviv boy who had been in Madrid with his family, and a career IDF soldier who had been abroad. Both are in good condition, according to authorities.
According to Channel 12 news, as of Wednesday morning the 9-year-old had still not been hospitalized as authorities did not want to separate him from his parents. The outlet said officials were awaiting the test results of the boy’s father and that the two could be hospitalized together if he too tested positive.
All students at the Yoseftal Elementary School in the central town of Azor, where the boy studies, have been told to enter quarantine.
Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, the director general of the Health Ministry who has been overseeing Israel’s battle against the spread of the virus, said Tuesday night that Israel had instituted its dramatic self-quarantine requirement for all arrivals from overseas, and its restrictions on large public gatherings, in order to try to avoid still more drastic measures such as widespread school closures.
Formally, the ministry is limiting public events to 2,000 participants, but, he said, “We’re also asking people to think about whether they want to hold any kinds of events.” He also stressed that Israelis newly returned from overseas should not visit elderly relatives. “The steps we’ve taken thus far are intended to help avoid closing schools… which would be a very radical step that we hope won’t be necessary,” he said.
Asked whether the restrictions were not too stringent, especially given the radical economic consequences, Bar Siman-Tov said, “If we hadn’t taken these steps, the impact on the economy would be far worse.” He added: “Look at Italy… a country not far from us… where the outbreak has necessitated the entire country going into lockdown.”
The cases announced Tuesday also included a man who flew from New York to Israel on March 2 and had been in direct contact with another person who contracted the virus. Israel only began requiring those coming from the US to quarantine starting on Monday.
Delta Airlines announced Tuesday that it was suspending flights on its route between New York and Tel Aviv from March 14 until March 24.
The itineraries released late Tuesday by the ministry showed those infected had visited shopping malls, supermarkets, the US Embassy branch in Tel Aviv and gyms across the country before falling ill, potentially exposing thousands to the disease.
Tuesday’s 20 new cases marked the biggest single-day jump since the beginning of the outbreak, as officials struggle to keep the spread of COVID-19 at bay. On Monday, 11 new cases were reported, bringing the total to 50, and 14 new cases were reported on Sunday.
Israel has had no deaths, though a bus driver remains in serious condition in northern Israel.
Health Ministry officials earlier on Tuesday tightened its restrictions on public gatherings, banning all events with more than 2,000 people at urging the public to avoid visits to nursing homes and hospitals, where those most at risk of being seriously harmed by the virus are located.
Channel 13 news reported Tuesday that the Health Ministry has ordered 1,000 new respirators, in addition to the thousands in storage in emergency warehouses. According to the report, the move is to prevent a collapse of the health care system in the same way that Italian hospitals have struggled to keep up with the deluge of patients.
The IDF has called up an additional 100 reservists to assist the Magen David Adom ambulance service as the coronavirus spreads, the military said Tuesday. Thus far, approximately 200 reservists have been called up. Approximately 70 of them are assisting the IDF Home Front Command develop educational materials about the disease.
In addition, Magen David Adom announced Wednesday that paramedics would begin to make house calls and provide doctors with the ability to examine patients remotely. According to the emergency service, the initiative has been in planning for several years but has been fast-tracked in light of the current situation.
“We’ve been planning a community medicine program for three years,” said Eli Bin, Magen David Adom’s director-general. “But the need for this type of initiative has become much more urgent in light of the current coronavirus crisis, where taking a patient to the hospital presents serious risks — especially when the patient might not be severely ill, but can still be highly contagious, potentially putting immunocompromised patients at the hospital in danger.”
According to the Health Ministry on Wednesday, anyone who was on any of the following flights must go into isolation for 14 days, on top of those who already need to be in quarantine because of previous directives regarding flights from Europe and east Asia:
February 27: El Al flight LY347 from Tel Aviv to Zurich departing at 7:30
February 27: El Al flight LY319 from Tel Aviv to Paris departing at 5:50
February 28: Virgin flight VS454 from Tel Aviv to London departing at 7:00
February 28: Virgin flight from Heathrow to Edinburgh departing at 8:45
March 1: El Al flight LY326 from Paris to Tel Aviv departing at 22:30 and arriving on March 2 at 03:50
March 2: Norwegian Airlines flight DA5671 from Tel Aviv to Barcelona departing at 12:45
March 5: El Al flight LY348 from Zurich to Tel Aviv departing at 12:40
March 7: British Airways flight BA2508 from Edinburgh to Gatwick departing 7:05, followed by 9:00 bus from Gatwick to Heathrow
March 7: Virgin flight VS453 from Heathrow to Tel Aviv departing 14:50
March 9: Norwegian Airlines flight LY347 from Barcelona to Tel Aviv departing at 6:30
In addition to those in quarantine due to international travel or contact with a known carrier of the virus, the ministry said anyone who was present at the following locations and times must also go into isolation:
March 2: Beit Ariella bar on Ha’Rekevet Street in Tel Aviv between 18:00-21:00
March 2: Polling station number 9 at the Ramot school in Maale Adumim between 17:00-18:00
March 3: Superpharm in the Maale Adumim Mall at 12:00
March 3: Michelangelo Cafe on Ben Tidron Street in Jaffa between 10:30-12:30
March 4: Shufersal Deal at Maale Adumim mall between 12:00-13:00
March 4: Ace hardware at Maale Adumim mall between 13:15-13:45