Expert: Israel Travel Restrictions Could Ease If Virus Spreads Locally

TEL AVIV (Reuters) -
A man walks in the arrivals terminal after Israel said it will require anyone arriving from overseas to self-quarantine for 14 days as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus, at the Ben Gurion International Airport, Tuesday. (Reuters/Ronen Zvulun)

Orders for all visitors arriving in Israel to self-isolate for two weeks could be eased if the coronavirus outbreak begins to spread locally en masse, one of the country’s epidemic management team said on Tuesday.

They may need to be replaced by other measures such as changing practices at schools and workplaces, said Ran Balicer, chief innovation officer for Clalit Health Services, Israel‘s biggest healthcare provider.

Israel has so far reported 58 cases of the virus after testing thousands of people. There have been no fatalities.

Full containment is not possible in the long term, Balicer told Reuters by phone. He himself has been in home isolation since returning from a trip to Germany.

“We know this is bound to eventually fail and we are only trying to delay as much as possible this kind of massive dissemination,” he said.

At some point the travel restrictions will not be necessary and the moderate social distancing currently in place will not suffice, he said. Authorities will instead use “more disruptive efforts such as interfering in school and work.”

Balicer noted that Israel‘s conditions were unique, with only one major airport, Ben Gurion International Airport, and relatively limited movement across borders.

Until this week all the cases in Israel were linked to foreign travel. But the case of an infected ambulance driver suggests community spread may be starting.

El Al has already suspended routes, announced layoffs and warned of a drop in revenue. The airport has moved international travel into a single terminal and hotels have issued profit warnings.

On Tuesday, the arrivals board at Ben Gurion showed cancelled flights from countries with restrictions, and outgoing travelers wore facemasks as they filed through near-empty security checks.

In some parts of the concourse the robot floor cleaner was the only thing moving.