70,000 quarantined as 17th coronavirus patient discovered

The Israel Police reported that a number of people are deliberately violating Health Ministry quarantine regulations.

MDA checking station at Ben Gurion Airport (photo credit: MAGEN DAVID ADOM)
MDA checking station at Ben Gurion Airport
(photo credit: MAGEN DAVID ADOM)
Seventeen Israelis have been diagnosed with coronavirus, and some 70,000 more are in home isolation, as fears of a pandemic spread ahead of the Purim holiday.
On Thursday, two more Israelis were diagnosed with COVID-19 disease, and an American tourist who spent time in Jerusalem before returning to New York was diagnosed with the virus.
Patient No. 17, a pensioner from the center of the country, returned to Israel from Italy on February 29, according to the Health Ministry. The patient drove from Ben-Gurion Airport directly to his home in a private car and entered isolation.
Patient No. 16 is a 38-year-old male tour-bus driver from east Jerusalem who is currently being treated in isolation at Poriya Hospital in Tiberias, where he checked in with pneumonia. According to the hospital’s director of infectious disease, the man is in stable condition and fully conscious.
Hebrew media reported that the driver recently toured with a group of pilgrims from Greece, 21 of whom had been diagnosed with coronavirus upon return to their country on February 27. The group had made stops in Israel, the West Bank and Egypt.
The Palestinian Authority Tourism Ministry said it closed Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity on Thursday due to concern over the coronavirus, after it was understood that the Greeks prayed at the site. The ministry did not say how long the closure order would remain in effect.
Earlier in the day, the Health Ministry shared the itinerary of the American woman from Westchester, New York, who traveled around Jerusalem from February 23-27. She visited several locations popular with Anglo-Israelis, including Mamilla, First Station and Talpiot.
The ministry is asking anyone who was in the locations she visited when she was there to immediately start a 14-day home isolation.
“[Israeli] travelers from the following locations must be placed under a 14-day home quarantine: Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, mainland China (including Hong Kong and Macau), South Korea, Japan, Thailand and Singapore,” the Health Ministry said Thursday.
An estimated 70,000 Israelis are currently in self-isolation, according to the Health Ministry.
On Wednesday, the ministry expanded restrictions to help avoid spread of the potentially lethal virus, asking the public to avoid congregating in groups of more than 5,000 people and to stay away from international conferences. Healthcare workers and soldiers are forbidden to travel abroad.
The Israel Police reported that a number of people are deliberately violating Health Ministry quarantine regulations. As a result, the police opened eight separate criminal investigations against people who have not stayed in quarantine as required by the Health Ministry.
“The police will be notified of those who violate the guidelines of the Health Ministry and will react,” the Israel Police said in a statement.
Government officials held several meetings about the coronavirus Thursday, including with foreign diplomats in Jerusalem in an effort to defend the travel ban it has put in place against tourists from 12 countries.
“We are [putting in place] so many restrictions because we can,” Population and Immigration Authority director-general Shlomo Mor-Yosef told a gathering of foreign diplomats while explaining the decision to not allow tourists arriving from 12 countries into Israel.
“We are talking about risk management of an international global pandemic,” he said. “Every country has its own measures and its own limitations and ability. It depends how much risk you would like to take.
“All the measures are not against anyone and not pro-anyone,” Mor-Yosef said.
Israel’s borders are highly monitored with minimal ports of entry, while European countries are too porous and cannot monitor entry and exits in the same fashion, he said.
The outbreak of the disease in Israel has been linked so far to Israelis returning from abroad and tourists who came here, Mor-Yosef said of the 17 reported cases of coronavirus in the country. The epidemic has not yet reached the stage of community infection.
“We can count the numbers by names. We know exactly where they came from and how they acquired the disease,” Mor-Yosef said, adding that home isolation is the best way to prevent the spread of the disease. “The minute we will have cases that came out of the blue, meaning we do not know how they acquired the disease, I think that home isolation won’t be the right medication,” he added.
Because tourists cannot comply with a self-quarantine, at-home plan, the best solution is to keep them from entering the country unless they can prove that they have a place in which to stay in Israel, Mor-Yosef said.
“Hotel-room isolation is not home isolation, so the decision if you are a tourist [from the 12 countries]... you are not allowed into Israel,” he said.
Those who are not Israeli citizens but are permanent or temporary residents will be allowed into Israel but must comply with the self-isolation instructions, including diplomats and business people, Mor-Yosef said.
“When we started with China, the ambassador was on his way to Israel,” he said. “He stayed for 14 days at home, and now he is working.”
Many people are not working, and many activities are being canceled as a result of the threat of the virus spreading.
The Tomb of Joseph in Nablus has been ordered closed ahead of the scheduled monthly visit, which was to take place on Monday, the Jewish Fast of Esther, due to the outbreak of coronavirus.
Following discussions between Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan, OC Samaria Brigade Col. Sagiv Dahan and in consultation with Rabbi Elyakim Levanon of the Elon Moreh Yeshiva, it was decided to cancel the monthly visit.
The decision was made by telephone consultation with Dagan, as he is currently in home quarantine after returning from France earlier this week, in accordance with a directive issued by the Health Ministry on Wednesday.
Dagan said in a statement: “Following the assessment of the situation we had with the Shimron Brigade and the Central Command and in light of the Health’s Ministry’s instructions, we decided to postpone the entrance to Joseph’s Tomb on the third day of [the Jewish month of] Adar, Ta’anit Esther [Fast of Esther.]
“We have a responsibility to get the general public to pray and connect with their roots,” he said. “But on such days, we must take increased precautions and obey the Health Ministry’s instructions for the health of our people. We count on the IDF and the health system. We will immediately coordinate with the Samaria Division to determine the new date for entering Joseph’s Tomb.”
Monthly entry to the tomb, located inside the Palestinian city of Nablus, is organized by the Samaria Regional Council in coordination with Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories [COGAT] and the IDF Samaria Division.
Averting fears that the Western Wall in Jerusalem may be closed to visitors, Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman announced on Wednesday that the Western Wall Plaza is open and that there is no concern about coming to the Western Wall due to the coronavirus.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites, said: “In this time of distress, there is nothing more appropriate than coming to pray at the Western Wall and asking the Creator of the Universe, the Healer of all men, to remove all illness from the inhabitants of this land and the entire world.”
Nine people who had been quarantined at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer expressed thanks on Thursday. These individuals, who were not diagnosed with the illness but had been on the coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship, were released from the hospital Thursday night to much celebration.
There had been 15 Israelis on the ship, which was docked in Yokohama, Japan, when the coronavirus started spreading aboard the boat. Four Israelis were diagnosed with virus before leaving the ship. Another 10 Israelis underwent 14 days of quarantine on the boat and then were brought to Israel for a further 14 days of quarantine at Sheba.
Before being released, the patients were rechecked and confirmed not to be carrying the virus.
The quarantine restrictions are beginning to have acute economic impact on Israel. On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tasked Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon with establishing an emergency fund to support businesses deemed critical for the economy, as local businesses have lost billions of shekels due to the quarantine of employees, lack of supplies, delivery delays and cancellation of flights.
At the same time, some industries are benefiting. A report on Israel’s Channel 12 showed that due to widespread fear that they will have to enter isolation, Israelis are stockpiling pasta, cereal, bottled water and other dry goods. And the online grocery shopping industry is skyrocketing with people afraid to shop at crowded grocery stores.
According to the World Health Organization’s March 5 report, there are now 95,265 reported cases of COVID-19 globally, and 3,355 deaths. In the past 24 hours, China reported 143 cases. Outside China, 2,055 cases were reported in 33 countries.
“This epidemic can be pushed back, but only with a collective, coordinated and comprehensive approach that engages the entire machinery of government,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Thursday during a virtual press conference. “We are calling on every country to act with speed, scale and clear-minded determination.”