Three Israelis recover from coronavirus, WHO warns of 'decisive point'

People can be worried and rightly so. The most important thing is to calm down and do the right things to fight this very dangerous virus.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits MDA's National Operations Center in Kiryat Ono, February 27, 2020 (photo credit: MAGEN DAVID ADOM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits MDA's National Operations Center in Kiryat Ono, February 27, 2020
(photo credit: MAGEN DAVID ADOM)
An Israeli who returned from Italy on Sunday and was diagnosed with coronavirus on Thursday has been transferred to an isolation ward at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, in Ramat Gan.
The Health Ministry on Thursday disseminated an alert to the public regarding the traveler’s flight number, arrival time at Ben-Gurion Airport and information about the patient’s whereabouts over the previous three days. Those who came in contact with the individual are requested to enter home quarantine for 14 days.
This was the first case of an Israeli infected with the coronavirus moving freely in the country. The two previous cases of Israelis who developed the COVID-19 disease inside Israel were already in isolation at Sheba, having returned from being onboard the coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship.
As a result of the surge of cases of coronavirus in Italy – a 25% increase in 24 hours to 400 cases – the Interior and Health ministries announced Thursday that any foreigner who visited Italy may not enter Israel, while Israelis returning from the country must enter 14 days of isolation. At least 50 travelers on separate flights from Italy were barred from entering Israel on Thursday. El Al canceled all flights to Italy.
El Al also announced the cancellation of flights to Bangkok, and said it was postponing the launch of its new route to Tokyo, which was set to start on March 11.
Quarantine was already required for any Israeli arriving from China, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea and Japan. The Health Ministry on Wednesday urged citizens to reconsider all travel abroad.
“Travel to conferences and other international gatherings should be avoided, including trips for religious events. International conferences in Israel should also be avoided,” the ministry said in a statement.
At the same time, three Israelis who had been infected with the coronavirus recovered and were released from the hospital Thursday.
Sheba Medical Center released Yitzhak Biton, one of the 11 Israelis who was under quarantine at the hospital after returning to Israel from the Diamond Princess.
Biton, 75, is the husband of Rachel Biton, 73, who contracted the virus while on the ship and spent a week in a Japanese military hospital before returning to Israel earlier this week. The couple is from Eilat.
“The family would like to thank the Sheba medical team for their constant concern for Yitzhak and the other Israelis who were on the coronavirus ship, from the preparation of the isolation rooms for their arrival from Japan and the way Yitzhak was treated until his release,” the Bitons said in a statement.
Also on Thursday, two of the passengers who contracted the disease while onboard the ship before being evacuated to Israel, Shimon Dahan and Rochale Ofarim, were released from a military hospital in Tokyo.
Currently only one Israeli, Oded Ofarim, who is Rochale’s husband, remains hospitalized.
Dahan is staying at the local Chabad House until he can secure a return flight to Israel. Ofarim said she would remain in Japan until her husband is released, and then they will return together.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toured MDA’s National Operations Center in Kiryat Ono, where a joint call center for MDA and the Health Ministry was established on Saturday night to deal with the coronavirus. During the visit, he announced that Israel will now allow anyone in Israel, from any country in the world, who is displaying symptoms of the coronavirus to call the center and have medical staff assess them.
“Today, I am announcing a dramatic step forward, which is already being implemented and is to my knowledge the first in the world,” Netanyahu said. “We are pioneering the treatment and prevention of this virus. We ask anyone from any country in the world displaying symptoms of the virus to call MDA’s 101 emergency call center, which has medical teams on staff to assess those who are symptomatic. If need be, paramedics will be sent to their house to perform a test. This is an innovation that could prevent the spread of the disease, and I ask for your cooperation.”
According to MDA director-general Eli Bin, MDA has already taken more than 400 samples from civilians who are in quarantine at home.
“We have taken steps that other countries have not taken,” Netanyahu reiterated on Thursday. “We were the first in the world to block flights from countries where the virus appears to be significant, and we have also taken other steps… There was criticism about it, but I thought, and still think, that a policy of overcaution is the right policy.”
Israeli citizens need to know they are in safe and responsible hands, but they have to take personal responsibility, he said.
“I ask the citizens to heed the instructions to cooperate with authorities, while not falling into a state of panic,” Netanyahu said.
As of Thursday at 6 a.m. Geneva time, China has reported a total of 78,630 cases of COVID-19 to the World Health Organization, including 2,747 deaths, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a briefing Thursday. Outside China, there were now 3,474 cases in 44 countries, and 54 deaths, he said.
“We are at a decisive point,” Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “For the past two days, the number of new cases reported in the rest of the world has exceeded the number of new cases in China. And in the past 24 hours, seven countries have reported cases for the first time: Brazil, Georgia, Greece, North Macedonia, Norway, Pakistan and Romania.”
“My message to each of these countries is: This is your window of opportunity,” he said. “If you act aggressively now, you can contain this virus. You can prevent people from getting sick. You can save lives.”
Adhanom Ghebreyesus told countries to act quickly and cautiously, adding: “No country should assume it won’t get cases. That could be a fatal mistake, quite literally.
“This virus does not respect borders,” he said. “It does not distinguish between races or ethnicities. It has no regard for a country’s GDP or level of development.”
But the world does not have to be hopeless or defenseless, and “this is not the time for fear,” Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“Fear and panic don’t help,” he said. “People can have concerns and rightly so. People can be worried and rightly so. The most important thing is to calm down and do the right things to fight this very dangerous virus.”
Idan Zonshine contributed to this report.