Up to 100,000 Israelis in isolation as Israel expands traveler quarantine

“We have to understand, we are in the midst of a global epidemic,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a press conference, “the most dangerous of these epidemics in the last 100 years."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adn Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman address the nation on the coronavirus epidemic, March 4, 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adn Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman address the nation on the coronavirus epidemic, March 4, 2020
With at least 50,000 people in quarantine, the Health Ministry on Wednesday expanded its list of restrictive orders, which will likely lead to thousands more Israelis going into home isolation. By some reports, as many as 100,000 people are currently in isolation.
“We have to understand, we are in the midst of a global epidemic,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a press conference, “the most dangerous of these epidemics in the last 100 years.”
He said that Israel is in one of the best positions of any Western country.
“We had to take tough, even very rigid steps to slow the spread of the disease in Israel, and indeed it did,” the prime minister said. “Today we will take similar steps, dozens more steps.”
Those steps include that a person returning to the country from France, Germany, Switzerland, Spain or Austria will be required to enter 14 days of quarantine. This restriction is retroactive and applies from the date that a person landed back in Israel.
On Wednesday, some 19 flights were expected to land in Israel from these European countries, which would put hundreds more Israelis in quarantine, Channel 12 reported. Many of them would not even be aware of the new guidelines upon landing in Israel. Moreover, no foreigners arriving from these countries may enter Israel unless they can prove that they have a place in which they can be quarantined for the requisite time period. Any foreign traveler who has been in Iran, Iraq, Syria or Lebanon for the 14 days prior to arrival in Israel will not be allowed to enter.
As a result of the travel restrictions, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Aviv Kochavi pushed off his upcoming trip to Washington.
Healthcare workers are forbidden from international travel, and it is recommended that civil workers refrain from travel, too.
Israel will not host international conferences until further notice, and citizens returning from international conferences will be required to enter quarantine as well. Mass events over 5,000 people will also not be allowed, canceling several festive events planned for the upcoming Purim holiday.
Finally, the Health Ministry asks that individuals adhere to a strict personal hygiene and avoid shaking hands.
Magen David Adom reported that it received three times its normal daily amount of calls Wednesday following the Health Ministry briefing, and asked the public to call only if they have symptoms of the virus. All others should call the Health Ministry coronavirus hotline.
As a result of the new restrictions, the Jerusalem Municipality released a statement explaining that it is reviewing the precautions and determining how they might impact the Jerusalem Marathon, which is scheduled to take place on March 20.
Furthermore, a basketball game between Hapoel Jerusalem and Peristeri BC at Jerusalem’s Payis Arena was held without fans. Israel’s National Soccer Cup was also impacted by the announcement.
The press conference took place hours after it was determined that hundreds more Israelis are likely to enter isolation because a newly diagnosed coronavirus patient attended a soccer game at Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv.
The Health Ministry said that anyone who entered through gate Seight and sat in certain sections and rows of the stadium should go into home quarantine, after patient No. 13, a high school student from the Brenner Regional Council, visited the stadium on February 24.
On the same day, the ministry announced that the Israelis who had been in home-based quarantine but voted at the Klausner Street “coronavirus voting station” in Tel Aviv were required to extend their isolation by another 14 days. This request came because “patient No. 15” was diagnosed with the novel virus Tuesday night.
Patient 15 returned from Italy on February 29 and had been in self-quarantine – except the hour between 10:15 and 11:15 on Monday morning, when he left his house to vote in the election.
One other person, patient No. 14, was also diagnosed late Tuesday: an elementary school deputy principal from Kiryat Ono.
Patient No. 13 and patient No. 14 both contracted the coronavirus at the Red Pirate toy store in Or Yehuda.
As a result of the student being diagnosed with the potentially lethal virus, some 1,500 high school students, teachers, staff members and even school bus drivers who came into contact with the student were asked to enter home quarantine.
Twenty-seven students from the elementary school have also been quarantined.
According to the Health Ministry, all of the newly diagnosed patients have mild symptoms.
“All of the instructions provided by the Health Ministry have prevented the disease from spreading,” said Education Minister Rafi Peretz. “Schools and school principals are receiving clear instructions – we are not leaving anyone to deal with this on their own.
“The decision to put these students in isolation was made by the Health Ministry,” he continued, noting that the Education Ministry would continue to follow the Health Ministry’s recommendation “in hopes that these actions will prevent wider spread.”
Health Ministry director-general Prof. Itamar Grotto, who is currently under quarantine himself, posted on Facebook Wednesday to help inform the public about the spread of the coronavirus in Israel and around the world.
He said that there are currently more than 93,000 cases of the novel coronavirus worldwide, and more than 3,200 people dead as a result. Outside of China, there have been 13,000 cases reported and about 200 deaths.
“At present, the disease is declining in China,” he said, “but in all other countries, we are watching the rise and spread of the disease.”
The disease associated with the coronavirus has been named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization.
Grotto named South Korea, Japan, Italy, Iran, France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland among the countries known to have high rates of the virus, but said that there are other countries about which we don’t have enough information, such as the United States.
“It is estimated that the disease is more widespread than reported, and we need to make decisions based on partial information,” he said, “taking into account the differences between countries and their readiness levels.”
Responding to an inquiry about whether people should forgo all travel or expect to face quarantine upon return to Israel, Grotto said that “travel to countries where an outbreak is already known should now be reconsidered,” and that one should reconsider any travel at all based on necessity and personal health status.
“Older people, over the age of 60, or people who have preexisting conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease or respiratory illness, are advised to take extreme care,” Grotto noted. “The risk for children under the age of 18 is actually lower.”
Among the many recommendations by the Health Ministry is that people who fall into the high-risk category should not have any interaction with people who traveled abroad or have any symptoms similar to those of the coronavirus.
The symptoms of the new coronavirus are fever, coughing and shortness of breath.
Grotto added that the possibility of one returning from a visit and being required to go into isolation is real and should be taken into account.
“However, it should be noted, as there is widespread expansion [of the virus] in Israel, the risk of acquiring the disease in Israel will be no different than abroad, and the Health Ministry’s recommendations will focus more on guidelines within Israel rather than travel abroad,” he said.
“We believe that widespread expansion in Israel is inevitable,” Grotto concluded. “We are currently working on estimating the extent of morbidity expected, using mathematical models based on the knowledge we have on the subject from around the world.
“It seems we are looking at dealing with this for at least the next few months, so we need to preserve our energy.”
On Thursday, a conference will take place at Haifa University about the coronavirus. Participants from colleges and universities across Israel are expected to attend. They will receive an up-to-date overview on the world’s coronavirus morbidity and response, as well as review the Health Ministry’s guidelines.
The country has expanded the number of hospitals that can treat coronavirus patients. On Tuesday, Rambam Medical Center opened an isolation unit. On Wednesday, the Rabin Medical Center-Hasharon Campus in Petah Tikva and Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon also announced they were prepared to take in COVID-19 patients. The 15-year-old teenager – patient No. 13 – is being held in quarantine at Barzilai.
Until now, all patients that required hospitalization have been treated at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer.
On Wednesday night, Shimon Dahan, an Israeli who contracted coronavirus while staying aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, was released from the hospital. Dahan was the third Israeli to contract coronavirus while in Japan, and his doctors say he does not pose a risk to anyone.