Israelis wearing protective masks vote at one of the special polling station erected for the 5,600 voters under quarantine, many of whom had visited countries where the coronavirus COVID-19 is prevalent, during parliamentary election on March 2, 2020 in Tel Aviv. GIL COHEN-MAGEN/AFP via Getty Images

How the Coronavirus is Affecting Israel

...And what the country is doing to prepare.

The unrelenting coronavirus broke out in Wuhan, China in December and has since infected 78,823, killed 2,462 people, and infiltrated several countries, including Israel. 

On Feb. 3, the Diamond Princess, a 21-day cruise around East Asia, was found to be infected with coronavirus, and the passengers were quarantined in Japan for 14 days. On the cruise were 15 Israelis, four of whom contracted the virus while quarantined on the ship, but only demonstrated mild symptoms. Those four infected patients were transferred to a hospital in Japan where a doctor from Jerusalem’s renowned Hadassah Medical Center, Prof. Ran Nir-Paz, and the Health Ministry director-general, Professor Itamar Grotto, met them. 

The Israeli government faced a dilemma regarding the 11 corona-free passengers. Their two options were to either have them remain quarantined on the ship or to return them to their homes. The government was concerned that leaving them in quarantine for another two weeks would heighten the risk of the uninfected catching the virus, due to close contact between the healthy and infected passengers on the ship, and because crew members come into contact with the infected prior to assisting the healthy passengers. However, they also entertained the possibility that some of the eleven Israelis were asymptomatic and, therefore, had the virus without testing positive for it. Their return to Israel would thus endanger the Israeli population. A further concern was that one of the passengers could catch a fever on their return flight to Israel, where isolation was not feasible. 

The government decided to bring the eleven non-infected passengers back to Israel via a charter plane on Thursday, Feb. 20, and on their way, they assembled to sing “Am Yisrael Chai.” Magen David Adom transferred the passengers to a special facility within the Sheba Medical Center where they would be quarantined for 14 days so as not to infect other patients. On Friday, they found that one of the supposed healthy patients, who tested negative for the disease in Japan, had the virus. 

There was a second incident exposing Israelis to coronavirus. On Saturday, Feb. 22, Israel’s Health Ministry announced that nine South Korean tourists visited Israel from Feb. 8 to Feb. 15, and upon their return to South Korea, they discovered that they were suffering from the coronavirus and might have had it during their vacation. Exposure to the tourists required that 180 Israeli students be quarantined. Since the incubation period for the virus is 14 days, and they came into contact with the tourists two weeks ago, their last day of isolation was Feb. 25. The Health Ministry published the group’s itinerary, which included visits to churches in Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Caesarea, Masada, Mount Olives, Mount Zion and Beersheba’s national park. The Health Ministry cautioned Israelis who came into direct contact with the infected, which is defined by two meters for at least 15 minutes, or who has 100 degrees Fahrenheit fever and is coughing, to isolate themselves at home for 14 days.

After learning that 30 students and two teachers from Beersheba, as well as 60 Kiryat Haim students who visited Masada, all came into contact with the victims of the virus, the Education Ministry required that they quarantine themselves at home until Feb. 27. Israel’s Ambassador to China Zvi Hefetz traveled on the same flight to Seoul, South Korea as the nine infected South Korean tourists, so he is also currently quarantined in Beijing. The Health Ministry’s director-general, Moshe Bar Siman Tov, forewarned at a press conference, “The potential that someone caught the virus from the tourists is high; whoever doesn’t enter quarantine is endangering the public.”

Due to the growing threat that the coronavirus is posing to Israel, various Israeli figures and institutions have worked to respond to the virus to prevent any further proliferation of the virus. The rapid spread of this virus caused the Health Ministry to require that anyone arriving from China, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Thailand to be quarantined for 14 days in order to gain entrance into Israel and that tourists from South Korea or Japan who were in those countries 14 days prior to arriving in Israel be prohibited from entering Israel. El Al is limiting its round-trip flights to Bangkok, Thailand by 50 percent, but is not eliminating flights from the infected country due to the many Israelis that are still in Thailand. Israelis returning from these countries considered to be infectious must quarantine themselves in their homes for two weeks. On the night of Feb. 22, a plane carrying passengers from Seoul landed in Israel. However, the passengers were prohibited from exiting the plane, except for the 12 Israeli citizens on board. Magen David Adom ambulances met the Israelis at the airport. 

Israeli Paramedics of Maguen David Adom at the coronavirus national operations center, perform a coronavirus test exercise on a volunteer on February 26, 2020 in the central Israeli city of Kiryat Ono. JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

Israeli officials are confident in their medical team’s ability to control the virus. Prior to the arrival of the eleven passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat and other officials visited Sheba Medical Center to ensure that it was sufficiently equipped for this advanced disease. After his tour, Netanyahu reassured, “I just toured the special isolation facility; it is very impressive. It uses innovative technologies and methods in order to achieve maximum isolation.”

The hospital has recently developed a telemedicine program that allows the hospital staff to treat their patients without the risk of catching the disease. Tyto Care, a start-up company, developed this device through which any individual, regardless of their background in medicine, could check their heart, lungs, throat, skin, ears, abdomen, heart rate and temperature. It also permits a respiratory examination through a digital stethoscope. Before the passengers left Japan, Sheba announced, “The 12 patients who will be quarantined will get a Tyto device. It will allow Sheba doctors to remotely examine the patients, doing a full physical exam with our set of connected devices.” America and European countries are already using the Tyto device. Eyal Baum, a key director of the program, explained that “It has the potential to allow masses of people to be monitored remotely in a very efficient way. It is a very effective tool for a situation where you don’t want to put people together in a room, with the goal to prevent the disease from spreading.”

On the night of Saturday, Feb. 22, the Health Ministry activated an MDA hotline for Israelis who suspect they have contracted the virus to call. After listening to the caller’s symptoms, the paramedic on the line decides if a doctor should be contacted. If a doctor is connected, then either an ambulance will arrive at the house to hospitalize the infected, or a paramedic will take the caller’s blood sample for an evaluation at Sheba. MDA trained the paramedics to carefully take the sample, so as not to get infected.

Doctors around the world are tasked with the challenge of testing many people for the virus with limited time. Israeli researchers, led by Dr. Amos Danielli at Bar Ilan University, are attempting to solve this issue by building on his 2007 development of detecting infected RNA sequences. Danielli explained that to detect such a sequence, they must attach the virus to a fluorescent molecule that will once struck by a laser beam, light up. To perform this test, they must repeatedly duplicate the sequence, which takes a lot of time. Danielli disclosed that he and his team found a way that only required five or six duplication cycles, as opposed to 30, which would require 15 minutes to see results, rather than an hour. Hopeful that his team will be able to use this new method of testing, Danielli said, “We need to present further proofs that it works, and then we will be able to make it available.”

The coronavirus also impacted Israel’s March 2 elections. Some feared going to the polls would expose them to the virus, which could have affected the number of citizens who voted. Additionally, as a measure of precaution, election workers wore protective gear when handling the ballots. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan admitted, “I have instructed the police to prepare for a situation in which the coronavirus could disrupt the coming elections, even in the form of fake news being spread that could cause panic in some areas, causing some to stay home on election day.” He directed them to prevent such pressures. The Central Elections Committee (CEC) also set up 20 polling stations for Israelis who will be quarantined during election day due to the virus. 

The virus also has ramifications for the two major marathons scheduled in Israel. Originally, there were 3,000 foreigners registered to run in The Tel Aviv Samsung Marathon on Friday, Feb. 28. However, with the recent spread of the coronavirus, 1,000 runners from Asian countries cancelled, and the Tel Aviv Municipality restricted the participation of any foreign runners, fearing the participants could be infected. Although many participants had already arrived in Israel prior to this announcement, Israel has promised to reimburse them for their plane rides, arrange for their travel arrangements back to their countries, and offer them a refund. The Jerusalem Marathon is scheduled to take place on March 20, but it is possible that as the date nears, the Health Ministry will ask that they cancel the marathon or limit the participation, just as the Tel Aviv Marathon did.

The coronavirus is a pressing issue with the potential to wreak havoc on the globalist system that is now the status quo. However, Prime Minister Netanyahu maintains that “The State of Israel remains better prepared than any other country” to fight and develop a vaccine against the virus, and hopefully prevent a global pandemic.

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Rachel Shohet is a senior at The Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.

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