Second coronavirus case in Israel confirmed, as panic increases

Netanyahu: ‘International coronavirus quarantine list may grow’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Ya'akov Litzman discuss the dangers of coronavirus on February 23 (photo credit: GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Ya'akov Litzman discuss the dangers of coronavirus on February 23
(photo credit: GPO)
A second Israeli who returned to Israel on Friday from the Diamond Princess cruise ship has tested positive Sunday for the virus, according to Sheba Medical Center. The individual is in isolation at the hospital.
The medical center said that the individual did not contract the virus in Israel.
The news comes as hundreds of Israelis have called a special hotline focused on treating people suspected of having contracted coronavirus, according to Magen David Adom. The Health Ministry has canceled upcoming trips to Poland for thousands of Israeli students, and only Israelis will run in Friday’s Tel Aviv Marathon.
A mild panic had erupted across Israel on Sunday following an announcement on Saturday that nine members of a large group of South Koreans who had been in the country from February 8 to 15 were diagnosed with coronavirus and might have had the virus while in Israel. The South Koreans travelled across the country, from the North to the South with stops in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, among other places.
At the start of the week, 200 Israeli students were in isolation after reporting being exposed to the tourists.
“We are prepared to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in Israel,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated during an emergency meeting at the Health Ministry in Tel Aviv Sunday in an effort to calm the country. “We are conducting assessments every day and I will appoint a team of ministers to meet on a daily basis to address this major challenge.”
He said that the government is constantly reviewing its policy and adjusting it to adapt to evolving circumstances, including monitoring entry into Israel from other countries.
On Sunday, the Health Ministry sent a memo to citizens sharing where the South Koreans went and reviewing guidelines for if people came into contact with the pilgrims, including putting themselves under a 14-day period of isolation.
The ministry also recommends that if signs of illness – fever over 38 degrees Celsius, cough or other respiratory symptoms develop – individuals should seek medical attention.
The Health Ministry added that as of Sunday anyone who has been in South Korea or Japan for the last 14 days must be in house isolation until 14 days have elapsed from the time of their departure from these countries.
Japan and South Korea were added to a growing list of countries that the ministry has labelled as contagious and is requiring travelers who return from them to enter quarantine. The other countries are China, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Thailand.
As of Sunday, the entry of non-residents or citizens of Israel who were in South Korea during the 14 days prior to their arrival in Israel was prevented. As of Monday, this directive will also apply for those arriving from Japan.
In addition, anyone who has been in Taiwan, Italy or Australia for the past 14 days and who develops disease symptoms should be checked according to the guidelines listed on the Health Ministry website. And anyone returning from these countries will not have to enter isolation.
“Today, we added Australia and Italy to the list of countries from which returning travelers will be required to enter quarantine,” the prime minister said. “As necessary, we will add other countries to the list.
“I said that over-preparation is better than lack of preparation," he continued. “To date, Israel has been more stringent than any other country, and we will continue to do what is necessary to prevent the spread of the virus in Israel.”
He called on the public to show “maximum responsibility” by adhering to the policies that the Health Ministry lays out.
“It must be clear: Anyone who is required to be in isolation must be,” Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman reiterated Sunday. He said that now is not the time for travel abroad.
The MDA hotline that launched Saturday night under the guidance of the Health Ministry is reachable through MDA’s 101 hotline and is meant to support the growing number of Israelis who have been in contact with a coronavirus patient, who is suspected of being infected with the virus, or has symptoms such as fever, cough or other respiratory symptoms.
When a person calls, a medic or paramedic answers the call and determines whether to join a doctor into the call, who will then decide how to proceed with medical care. Options for next steps include sending an ambulance to evacuate the patient to a hospital or sending a paramedic to the person’s home to take a blood sample for evaluation at Sheba Medical Center’s laboratory.
In addition, according to MDA, so far dozens of paramedics have undergone dedicated training on how to collect samples from potential patients in order to test for coronavirus. They have also been trained in staying fully protected against the infection themselves while taking these samples.
On Sunday alone, MDA trained an additional 70 MDA paramedics at its Paramedic Education Center in Ramat Gan. Participants practiced taking patient samples while wearing full anti-contamination kits.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan warned Sunday of potential election interference that would somehow be caused by the virus.
"I have instructed the police to prepare for a situation in which the coronavirus could disrupt the coming elections, even in the form of fake news being spread that could cause panic in some areas, causing some to stay home on election day," Erdan said, noting that such election interference would be considered a criminal offense.
The Israel Airport Authority called an emergency meeting at which its head, Pinchas Idan, informed staff that the airport was implementing a hiring freeze until the summer season and that there would be no raises or promotions until further notice. Some staff, he said, would likely have to reduce their hours to part-time.
“During this time we must work hard and carefully,” he said, “and hope things will improve soon.”
In addition, the Education Ministry was forced to cancel 29 upcoming school trips to Poland for some 3,087 students who were scheduled to travel between February 23 and March 4, until further notice.
The Tel Aviv Marathon, which is scheduled to take place on Friday, will continue, according to the Tel Aviv Municipality. However, only Israelis will take part in the event. The Jerusalem Marathon is also facing possible cancellation.
Some Knesset members and candidates lashed out at the government over its handling of the coronavirus.
Gesher head Orly Levy-Abecassis accused the country of not being prepared to handle the crisis despite its “supposed regular preparation” for attacks - including biological warfare attacks – by terrorist regimes or hostile nations.
Former president of the Israeli Medical Association, Prof. Leonid Eidelman, who is running on Yisrael Beytenu’s list, also attacked the establishment: “The corona panic seems to be gaining momentum,” he said. “Talk about forced hospitalization, eliminating various tourists or certain theories of biological warfare may be helpful to some politicians, but they will not help the public in real time.
“Speaking as someone who knows from the inside, the Israeli health system suffers from the highest over occupancy rate among OECD countries and would not be able to hospitalize these sick people even if police forced them to be hospitalized,” he concluded.  
President Reuven Rivlin, however, did not cancel his diplomatic plans as a result of the virus. He arrived in Australia on Friday and is expected to spend a week there visiting Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.
Following the instructions of the Health Ministry regarding those returning from Australia, the spokesperson of the President's Residence gave the following statement: "The entourage from [the President's Residence] in Australia is not expected to change its planned schedule at present of the president's official visit. The director-general is in touch with the director-general of the ministry on the subject, and we will update on any change that is necessary."