JERUSALEM – Thousands of Israeli soccer fans and high school students were instructed to go into quarantine after being exposed to coronavirus as the total of confirmed cases in the country climbed to 15 on Wednesday.
In an effort to curb the outbreak, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a series of dramatic measures including limiting large gatherings and expanding the travelers’ quarantine list to include five western European countries.
One of the 15 Israelis who contracted coronavirus attended a derby soccer match last week in Tel Aviv, prompting the Health Ministry to instruct fans sitting in his section – which holds some 5,300 seats – to self-quarantine.
Israelis returning from Germany, France, Switzerland, Spain, and Austria were ordered to self-quarantine for two weeks since leaving those countries. The measure was also applied retroactively to arrivals from the past 14-day period. In addition, any foreign nationals coming from those countries would be barred entry, Netanyahu said during a press briefing at the Health Ministry.
Netanyahu described the outbreak as a “global epidemic [that] might be one of the most dangerous of the last 100 years.”
However, he added, Israel “is doing better than the other countries.”
Part of the reason Israel was faring better than other countries with confirmed coronavirus cases, the prime minister said, was the “heavy measures” it was implementing.
“We have initiated broad quarantines and extensive testing that other countries have not. We have taken steps to handle people returning from abroad. In Italy, the virus is spreading rapidly. The death rate is 4-5 percent and the percentage of seriously ill stands at 10 percent,” the prime minister said.
Any foreign citizen who had been in Syria, Iran, Iraq, or Lebanon in the 14 days prior to their arrival in Israel would also be barred from entering the country. Last week Israel restricted entry to foreign nationals who were in Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Italy, China and Hong Kong, and Macau in the past 14 days. Israelis returning from those countries were instructed to self-quarantine.
Israel has also issued a travel advisory against traveling abroad unless absolutely necessary.
Gatherings of over 5,000 people would no longer be authorized and all international conferences were instructed to be cancelled.
Following the dramatic announcement, concerts, sporting events and multiple parades for the upcoming Jewish festival of Purim announced their cancellations.
Netanyahu also advised Israelis to avoid physical contact, including shaking hands.
The Health Ministry also instructed an entire student body, comprising some 1,150 high schoolers, to self-quarantine after being exposed to the same teenager who attended the soccer game. Separately, an elementary class in another school was also told to go into isolation after their teacher was diagnosed with the virus.
According to Prof. Itamar Grotto, the Health Minsitry’s deputy director, while the spread of the virus in Israel was “unpreventable,” the drastic measures were an attempt to delay the crisis.
“We can expect a wide-scale outbreak, and we don’t know how strong it will be. It appears that we are talking about a months-long event, so we must remain calm and patient,” he said.