Coronavirus strands 1,700 Chinese workers in Israel

All crossings into Israel have been shut to tourists from China, and returning Israelis have to be quarantined upon arrival due to fear of the deadly virus.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Chinese workers who are building large infrastructure and real estate projects in Israel will have to stay in the country instead of being swapped for fellow countrymen due to fear of the China-based Coronavirus spreading to Israel.

The Chinese laborers’ work permits will likely be extended past their January 31st deadline by the cabinet when it meets this week, the Population and Immigration Authority told Israel Hayom. This will forestall any delay to such massive projects as the new Haifa Port and the Light Rail, which are being built by Chinese companies that supply a steady source of labor for them.

Interior Minister Arye Deri declared on Thursday that “all land and sea crossings will be closed to foreigners who have been to China” in the last two weeks.  He extended the ban to air travel Saturday night, and Israeli flights to the Asian giant have been suspended until at least March 25th.

Returning Israelis are being quarantined in hospital and getting blood tests to see if they have been infected with the novel virus. They are then being told to go home and stay isolated for two weeks, the virus’s incubation period, or until the test results come back negative.

Many other countries have issued strict travel restrictions as well, including the United States, which raised its travel advisory to the highest possible level, telling its citizens not to go to China at all.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is convening an emergency meeting Sunday with the ministers of health, finance, foreign affairs, justice, interior and transportation, as well as emergency health service personnel, to discuss “national preparedness regarding the Coronavirus.”

The virus is now being studied urgently by medical professionals around the globe to see if they can discover a vaccine for it.

The World Health Organization (WHO) International Health Regulations’ Emergency Committee on Thursday declared that the outbreak now meets the criteria for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Worldwide numbers it cited were 83 cases in 18 countries, with no deaths as of yet. Other media reports had 137 cases in about two dozen countries, including two each in Italy and Great Britain.

The Committee recommended that “all countries should be prepared for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation and case management, contact tracing and prevention of onward spread” of the virus. However, it stopped short of banning travel to China, a fact touted by the Chinese embassy to Israel, to no avail.

In China itself, according to the country’s National Health Commission, 259 people have died in the country since the outbreak of the virus last month, with over 1,500 others in serious condition. The number of confirmed cases of infection rose Friday to nearly 12,000, with around 15,000 suspected cases. Over 100,000 people who had been in close contact with those infected are being monitored for symptoms.

The WHO praised China’s response to the medical emergency, citing its openness in sharing data and the public health measures it has taken to stem the spread of the illness, including shutting down the Wuhan region, home to tens of millions of people, which is the epicenter of the virus.