Israel recommends citizens not to travel abroad as coronavirus precaution

Passengers wear protective masks at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, on Feb 27, 2020. PHOTO: AFP

JERUSALEM (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - The Israeli government has asked its citizens to reconsider plans to travel abroad, as the coronavirus spreads to more countries across the globe.

"The Health Ministry is calling on the public to consider the necessity of travel abroad in general," the ministry said on Wednesday.

It also advised against holding or attending international gatherings.

The ministry added Italy to the list of destinations from which Israelis are required to enter into quarantine upon return. It is the first non-Asian country on the list.

"The assessment is that there is a high probability the disease has already spread to other regions of Europe and many other places in the world," it said.

The ministry had already instructed Israelis returning from Japan, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Thailand and South Korea to go into isolation at home for 14 days.

Two Israelis who returned home after being quarantined in Japan on the Diamond Princess cruise ship are the only confirmed coronavirus cases in Israel, and the ministry has readied quarantine facilities should more infections occur.

In Jerusalem, Roman Catholic authorities have instructed their priests to give communion by hand only, rather than placing the wafers on worshippers' tongues, and to empty holy water fonts - as precautions against the spread of virus.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem announced the measures on Thursday, shortly after the start of Lent, the 40-day season that leads up to Easter.
Millions of pilgrims frequent Jerusalem and other holy cities such as Nazareth and Bethlehem each year.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Vatican's apostolic administrator, said in a statement that with its many visitors the Holy Land is in a "unique situation".

In the communion ceremony, worshippers receive a wafer called a host and often sip wine, or dip the wafer into wine in the chalice before putting it in their mouths.

Catholics believe that the host and wine, after consecration by a priest, become the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Pizzaballa's statement also offered a "preventive suggestion" to empty the holy water fonts - typically metal or stone basins filled with blessed water that are often placed at the entrance to a church.

The coronavirus has now spread to every continent except Antarctica. Mainland China, where the virus originated late last year, reported 327 new cases as of the end of Thursday - the lowest since Jan 23 - taking its tally to 78,824 cases with 2,788 deaths.

South Korea reported 571 new coronavirus cases yesterday, its biggest daily increase in infections that takes its total to 2,337. More than 40 per cent of those infected were linked to the secretive Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony in Daegu city. The outbreak has killed 16 people in the country.

The rapid spread of the virus has raised fears of a pandemic, with at least 17 countries reporting their first cases yesterday.

"The outbreak is getting bigger," WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said in Geneva.

Separately, the WHO said in a report yesterday that much of the global community is not yet ready to implement the types of measures that have contained the fast-moving coronavirus outbreak in China.

"These are the only measures that are currently proven to interrupt or minimise transmission chains in humans," the report stated.

"Fundamental to these measures is extremely proactive surveillance to immediately detect cases, very rapid diagnosis and immediate case isolation, rigorous tracking and quarantine of close contacts, and an exceptionally high degree of population understanding and acceptance of these measures."

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