image Photo: Flash90

Israel cautions against travel abroad over COVID-19 fears

Israel’s Ministry of Health is now advising all citizens to abstain from unnecessary overseas travel while also avoiding attendance at international conferences at home or abroad, due to increased concern over the global outbreak of the coronavirus.

The Director of the Ministry’s International Relations Division, Dr. Asher Shalmon, told TV7 there was a “major change” in Israeli policy effected at midnight last night, when Italy became the first European nation to be added to the no-entry list. He said travel from Italy has been ‘hermetically sealed’ an Israeli man who visited the peninsula nation tested positive for COVID-19 four days after returning home. Dr. Shalmon confirmed that the infected individual is now being quarantined at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel HaShomer Hospital,” where Israel passengers aboard the ill-fated Diamond Princess cruise liner are also being treated.

Italy is the latest country from which all visitation has been banned, joining mainland China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Macau, South Korea and Japan. A 14-day home quarantine has been mandated for all Israel travelers who visited any of those locations for any duration of time. Instructions include avoidance of all public places, including but not limited to schools, workplaces, public transportation, recreation and shopping centers, medical centers and healthcare clinics.

Whereas the quarantine requirement does not apply to travelers who only had connecting flights through Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore and Macau – it is applicable for Italy. “Entry will be barred to any non-Israeli citizens who passed through Italy in any manner over the past 2 weeks,“ Dr. Shalmon informed TV7.

“Guidance” advisories have also been issued pertaining to visitors to Taiwan and Australia. People are instructed to immediately call the 101 Hotline for the Magen David Adom emergency medical service if they suffer any of the following symptoms: fever 38C (100.4F) or higher, cough, trouble breathing, or any other respiratory symptoms. Paramedics will be sent to patients’ homes to collect lab specimens for testing and advise follow-up care in consultation with medical doctors.

Any members of the public who fear they may have contracted the disease are explicitly banned from seeking treatment at local health clinics an emergency rooms, or traveling by public transportation. They are also advised to fill out and send an online questionnaire to the Ministry of Health or call its *5400 Hotline.

While seeking to reassure the public over national preparedness to cope with the disease, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also urged compliance with Health Ministry guidelines. “We have made decisions, the hand is safe at the wheel, we are holding daily meetings and there is a very neat division of responsibilities, management and support,” he said, stressing that what is most needed “from the citizens of Israel is to observe our instructions so that we can act to together. This way we will get through this crisis.”

Mr. Netanyahu also reiterated that the government’s policy prioritizes “over-preparation” rather than “under-preparation, and above all caution and no hysteria.”

Senior government leaders are now holding daily meetings to assess risks surrounding a potential outbreak. During a briefing to the task force at which the Prime Minister was present, Director-General of the National Security Council Meir Ben Shabbat echoed Netanyahu’s statements. “We are cautious, but not at all hysterical. Everything is under control,” he asserted. Explaining that “the Finance Ministry is overseeing the operations room, which is monitoring the implications for the economy,” he added that “we are also in contact with representatives of the private sector.”

In his view, the National Security Council  chief said “there is outstanding cooperation” and that overall, the country is “on stable ground despite uncertainty as for the evolution of things.”

For more information about Israel’s efforts to combat the coronavirus, please watch TV7’s Jerusalem Studio panel with top Israeli experts after 9 PM local time tomorrow, 28 February.