Netanyahu approves plan for coronavirus vaccine research base

"Nothing should be spared, and there is no room for bureaucracy when it comes to treating the virus," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds an emergency meeting on the coronavirus epidemic. (photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds an emergency meeting on the coronavirus epidemic.
(photo credit: CHAIM TZACH/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed health authorities to work toward a vaccination against the novel coronavirus and approved plans to establish a vaccine factory in the country on Sunday, amid the continued spread of the illness across the globe.
Plans to build a local vaccine production facility were presented by Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman at an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss the threat posed by the virus, together with ministers and representatives from the Health, Finance, Foreign and Justice Ministries.
"Our preparations [for the virus] will include all branches of the Israeli government," said Netanyahu following the meeting. "Our goal is first to delay the arrival of the virus to Israel – I say 'delay' because it is inevitable that it will arrive here – and then to treat, to identify those infected, to isolate them and treat them."
Netanyahu paid tribute to the Chinese authorities for their efforts to contain the virus, and added that Israel was working with the Palestinian Authority to ensure the implementation of necessary health measures.
"I am making it clear that the State of Israel is currently ahead of the world in many things, even in addressing this issue and we intend to lead in another aspect. I have instructed the Israel Institute for Biological Research and the Ministry of Health to act to create a vaccine for the virus as well as establish a vaccine factory," Netanyahu said. "It is possible that even on this issue, if we work fast enough, with an appropriate budget and the talented people that we have, that Israel will be ahead of the world here too."
The death toll from the coronavirus has now exceeded 300, with over 14,000 confirmed infections worldwide. The first death outside of China was reported on Sunday, when a 44-year-old Chinese resident of Wuhan – the origin and epicenter of the virus – traveling in the Philippines died after developing "severe pneumonia."
Dozens of Israelis arrived on Sunday morning on the last two flights into the country from China before a ban on flights. Those passengers included employees of the Israeli Embassy in China, who swore to stay in isolation for two weeks after landing. At noon, new rules came into force prohibiting foreign nationals who had been to China in the past two weeks from entering Israel.
Following the World Health Organization's declaration of a global health emergency, Israel's Foreign Ministry released a statement recommending that citizens "refrain from flying to China." They also recommended that anyone currently in China leave and return to Israel via a third country due to the cessation of direct flights.
Litzman and Interior Minister Arye Deri toured Ben-Gurion Airport on Sunday afternoon to evaluate measures implemented by the Population and Immigration Authority to prevent the entry of foreign nationals who have recently spent time in China.
"We will not permit anything that will result in harm to public health," said Litzman at the airport. "We are almost certain that the virus will unfortunately arrive in Israel, and we are prepared to do everything that is necessary to take care of it."
Deri said that there was no need for hysteria but that Israel would not be taking "any risks where it concerns human lives" and there was no room for discretion in measures decided by the health authorities. A total of 35 Chinese citizens who arrived on a flight from Moscow on Saturday were refused entry, he said.
Across Israel, several individuals who returned to the country from China in recent days were admitted for tests amid suspicion that they may have contracted the virus. A woman in her fifties from the Golan Heights was sent to the Baruch Padeh Medical Center in Poriya on Sunday after having returned from a business trip to China 10 days prior. She was subsequently instructed to remain in isolation at home and is awaiting test results.
Seeking to combat rising fear and anti-Chinese sentiment among the Israeli public, the Chinese Embassy in Israel convened an urgent briefing for local journalists on Sunday evening. Deputy chief of mission Dai Yuming sparked controversy when he urged Israeli authorities to keep ports of entry open to citizens, by referencing China's decision to provide shelter to Jews persecuted during the Holocaust.
The embassy subsequently clarified Yuming's remarks, stating that "there was no intention what so ever to compare the dark days of the holocaust with the current situation and the efforts taken by the Israeli government to protect its citizens."
Embassy spokesperson Yang Chen told The Jerusalem Post that there "should be no concern" regarding Chinese citizens spreading the virus in Israel, and warned against the dissemination of fake news by Israeli media outlets.
"Our measures are very responsible and are in strict accordance with the new recommendations of the Health Ministry in Israel," said Chen. "The panic is more harmful than the virus itself and can cause greater damage. We appreciate the help from the Israeli government, and we hope this will continue."
The Manufacturers Association of Israel announced that it would open a situation room on Sunday evening to assist Israeli businesses who have not received supplies or payments from Chinese customers.
"The coronavirus that is currently paralyzing the Chinese economy proves that the State of Israel must not lose its manufacturing and economic independence," said president Dr. Ron Tomer, who was appointed to head the association on Thursday.
"We must take care to establish an independent industrial infrastructure that will provide that independence in the days of a political, security or medical crisis. We are a country that has become addicted to cheap imports and now this addiction is starting to hurt. If this trend continues, Israeli consumers may find that shelves are empty."
The Incoming Tour Operators Association in Israel announced that it had opened a special situation room for tour groups currently visiting from China, and would be working in constant contact with the Health, Tourism and Interior ministries. Several groups currently visiting Jordan and scheduled to return to China via Israel were not permitted to enter the country, the association said.
Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman contributed to this report.