The number of Israelis diagnosed with coronavirus reached seventeen on Thursday, as a patient recently in Italy was added to the list.
Earlier in the day, the Health Ministry announced that a 38-year-old man, became the 16th in the country to be infected by coronavirus.
The Israeli, a tour bus driver from eastern Yerushalayim, was hospitalized at Poriya Medical Center in the Galil.
According to media reports, he was the bus driver for a group of 21 Greek tourists, four of whom have been diagnosed with the virus. The driver checked into the hospital with pneumonia.
The hospital has advised that the man is in stable condition and fully conscious. The hospital is keeping him in isolation and adhering to the guidelines of the Health Ministry.
Dr. Boaz Lev, who heads the epidemiology unit of the Health Ministry, told Channel 12 on Thursday that an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 Israelis are currently in home quarantine after returning from countries where COVID-19 has spread.
Lev added that authorities trust they “are acting as model citizens,” complying with the quarantine rules.
But to make sure they do, the Israel Police opened eight criminal investigations against Israelis who have violated their quarantine rules or misled Health Ministry inspectors.
“The Israel Police will work in cooperation with the state prosecution in order to bring to justice anyone who chooses to ignore the Health Ministry instructions and endangers, with their actions — whether through negligence or intentionally — raising the dangers of the spread of the coronavirus,” it said.
Those who violate the state directives could face up to seven years in prison. No arrests have been reported as of yet.
Meanwhile, the epidemic threatens to have religious and political repercussions, as Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan seeks a ban on Friday Muslim prayers at Har HaBayis, Channel 12 reported.
Erdan sent a request in writing to the head of the National Security Council asking him to prevent the services from taking place, following reports that four Palestinians were suspected of carrying the virus.
However, the report said, there was no plan to bar entry of thousands of Palestinian workers into Israel.
The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry disclosed earlier on Thursday that four people at a hotel in the Beit Lechem area were suspected of having being infected with the coronavirus by tourists who have since flown back to Greece.
Meanwhile, the hotel, in the town of Beit Jala, near Beit Lechem, has been placed on lockdown.
Subsequently, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett ordered the city of Bet Lechem to be put under quarantine. The military and the Palestinian Authority will be tasked with enforcing the order, to take effect immediately and until further notice.
The authorities have been considering placing all of Yehuda and Shomron under lockdown, but have so far deferred such a decision, which would have a serious effect on the economy, as thousands of Palestinian workers would be unable to enter the country, and some 70 percent of construction in Israel depends on them.
Palestinian Authority President Abbas also declared a ‘state of emergency,’ including a ban on tourists, in Palestinian territories for 30 days after a seventh coronavirus case was confirmed.
Also on Thursday, President Reuven Rivlin says he’s not shaking hands with anybody — in line with government restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. This follows Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s request the day before that all Israelis refrain from shaking hands, and said that he was already observing the restriction.
Rivlin tweeted that during a visit to the IDF Central Command he saluted the soldiers, but there were no handshakes.
“Minister of Health Litzman is the commander-in-chief when it comes to corona[virus]. He decided that we don’t shake hands and we follow his orders,” said President Rivlin.
“In quarantine or not, whether you returned from abroad or are here in the country — we must all listen to the Health Ministry directives, for all of our sakes,” added the president, who recently returned from an official visit to Australia.
While there were no statistics available on the decline in handshaking, it was reported on Thursday that the frequency of calls to the 101 emergency line has septupled in the crisis.
Magen David Adom said that in less than 24 hours, the call center received some 39,000 inquiries, compared with about 5,500 on a regular day.
MDA asked people not call 101 for general information about the coronavirus, but to use the Health Ministry’s *5400 hotline instead, or call their insurance carrier in cases where there are no physical symptoms.
On Wednesday, the Health Ministry website crashed due to the volume of visitors.
Updated Thursday, March 5, 2020 at 2:55 pm update
Updated Thursday, March 5, 2020 at 3:45 pm add info
Updated Thursday, March 5, 2020 at 4:41 pm abbas pa