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Israel strives to fend off dreaded Covid-19

  • Paula
There’ve been a few scares but so far, there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Israel. However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is taking no chances, and has instructed the Israeli Biological Institute and health ministry to work on developing and producing a vaccine as soon as possible. He says it’s only a matter of time until the virus appears in the country.
by PAULA SLIER | Feb 13, 2020

Already two Israeli companies are in the final stages of developing revolutionary antiviral reusable face masks that would help prevent the spread of the virus. Two Bar-Ilan University chemistry professors have invented ultrasonic fabric-finishing technology that mechanically infuses antiviral particles into textiles used for protective products. Another company, Argaman, is nearing commercialisation of a reusable, washable, breathable antiviral facemask called Bio-Block.

Spread through air and direct contact, the World Health Organization (WHO) figures on Wednesday were 44 653 cases of infection since 31 December of which more than 1 113 people have died. The numbers keep climbing. Most of the cases are in China. A few have been confirmed in 15 other countries.

Because there’s no vaccine or treatment for what’s now called Covid-19, personal protective equipment is an important way to combat the transmission of the virus and avoid a pandemic. But disposable facemasks aren’t a guarantee against infection although increasing numbers of international travellers are choosing to wear them. (I am in South Africa at the moment, and half the passengers who flew here with me were wearing masks.)

The Israeli National Security Council says it’s co-ordinating efforts to deal with the problem in Israel, and has identified those who are infected and quarantined them at home. The Palestinian Authority has also been briefed about all the preventative steps and public-health issues it needs to take into account.

Among the Israeli scares has been a two-year-old girl who recently flew from Thailand to Israel and who was put in isolation in a Kfar Saba hospital due to fear she was infected with Covid-19. The virus was later ruled out.

A Chinese labourer was also hospitalised and quarantined in Ashkelon after arriving in the country. An Israeli woman in her 60s was hospitalised in total isolation at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital over concerns that she had coronavirus. She recently returned from a trip to China with flu-like symptoms. None have so far been confirmed to be have the virus.

A group of 32 Chinese tourists was also recently barred from entering Israel and put on a returning flight shortly after landing at Ben-Gurion International Airport. Said Israeli Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman Tov, “We believe it’s impossible to prevent the virus from making it to Israel, but we’re trying to delay it as much as possible.”

Meanwhile, customs workers at the airport said they would no longer check passengers and their luggage arriving from China due to a lack of protective gear. The workers said they had asked management for suitable equipment, but so far it hadn’t been provided.

Kits to test for the virus have, though, been supplied to hospitals across the country. The health ministry has recommended that Israelis “consider the necessity” of flights to Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, South Korea, and Taiwan.

Meanwhile, 15 Israelis are in quarantine on a cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, docked in a Japanese port. They’re among 3 700 passengers and crew of whom at least 135 cases of the virus have now been detected. The ship has been in quarantine since 5 February.

In spite of the sweeping steps taken by Jerusalem to prevent the deadly coronavirus from reaching the country, soldiers from one of the East Asian countries hit hardest by the disease (and not named) are participating in a joint military drill with Israeli troops at a base in the south of the country.

The exercise, which will take place for several weeks and involves direct contact with Israeli soldiers, has been severely criticised in the country. Army Radio reports that Jerusalem decided to go ahead with the drill as planned to avoid harming relations with the country in question.

Military sources were quoted as saying that the exercise was “important” and that “all the necessary medical checks were performed and even made stricter”.

It comes as the Israeli Magen David Adom national emergency network sent 2 000 masks and 200 full protection kits to help prevent the spread of coronavirus in China. Other Israeli humanitarian aid organisations have sent emergency medical supplies and protective gear.

But Beijing hasn’t been overly appreciative. The deputy chief of the Chinese embassy in Israel said, “China opened its doors to the Jewish people during dark times and we didn’t close it. I hope that Israel won’t close the door to the Chinese.”

The embassy later issued a clarification and apologised, saying that “there was no intention whatsoever to compare the dark days of the Holocaust with the current situation and the efforts taken by the Israeli government to protect its citizens”.

The spread of Covid-19 over the past two months has prompted the WHO to declare a global emergency. Netanyahu has praised China’s efforts to address the spread of the virus.

Beijing has just finished building a second new hospital to isolate and treat patients – a 1 500-bed centre in Wuhan, the quarantined central Chinese city where the virus emerged late last year. Earlier, another rapidly constructed, 1 000-bed hospital with prefabricated wards and isolation rooms began taking patients.

Authorities have also moved people with milder symptoms into makeshift hospitals at sports arenas, exhibition halls, and other public spaces.

Altogether, more than 50 million people are under virtual quarantine in the hardest-hit Hubei province in an unprecedented – and unproven – bid to bring the outbreak under control.

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