Nearly 200 Israelis in Isolation Over Coronavirus

A man walks at the arrival area of a terminal at the Ben Gurion airport in Lod, on Motzoei Shabbos. (Reuters/Ammar Awad)

As of Sunday morning, some 200 Israelis were in isolation over fears that they were exposed to a tourist group from South Korea, a number of whom have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. Most of those in isolation are students from three schools who were in close quarters with the tourists at three sites – Tel Be’er Sheva National Park, Caesarea, and Masada. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will hold a special meeting Sunday morning to evaluate the situation and decide on further steps needed to keep coronavirus from spreading.

However, there is a strong likelihood that that figure would rise significantly by the end of Sunday, as further details of the itinerary of the tourists become clear.

Footage circulated Saturday night of the Korean tourists at Me’aras Hamachpelah, coming into close contact with a number of visitors. Health officials are trying to track them down.

Twelve Border Guards who provided security to the group are also in isolation until further notice, the Ministry said Sunday. An additional 20 workers at the sites where the tourists visited have been located as well, and are at home in self-isolation.

Over the weekend it was revealed that nine South Korean tourists who had been in Israel in recent weeks had been infected with coronavirus.

The nine tourists returned home from an eight day trip to Israel several weeks ago, and all are in the hospital in South Korea after having been diagnosed with coronavirus, the BBC’s South Korean service reported Saturday. They were in Israel on a church-sponsored trip, together with 77 other tourists.

The Health Ministry said that the group was in Israel between February 8th and 15th, well into the period when coronavirus was spreading throughout Asia. Based on the itinerary of the group, the Ministry is seeking to track down Israelis who had contact with the group – who were within two meters of them for periods of at least 15 minutes – in order to examine them for symptoms, and isolate them.

Health Ministry General Manager Moshe Bar Siman Tov speaks during a press conference about the coronavirus, in Tel Aviv, Motzoei Shabbos. (Flash90)

As a result of the infection, Israel on Motzoei Shabbos closed its borders to South Korean residents, sending a plane that had arrived back without allowing passengers into the country. South Korea on Sunday filed a complaint with Israel over the order.

Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz said that he sympathized with the Korean complaint, but that Israel had “no choice” but to close its borders to residents of that country, given the potential health emergency.

Speaking to Kan News Sunday, Professor Siegel Sadetsky, head of Public Health services in the Health Ministry, said that Seoul was forthcoming with details of the infection, after the BBC’s Korean service reported that the group that had recently returned from Israel included several individuals who were infected.

“We are not planning to close our borders to all tourists, that is not practical,” he added.

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