Israel Takes Strict Approach To Control The Spread Of Coronavirus

Feb 26, 2020
Originally published on February 26, 2020 1:01 pm
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Israel has taken a stricter approach to the coronavirus than most other countries. It has openly banned visitors from five Asian countries, and it has sent over a thousand tourists home. NPR's Daniel Estrin has been following this from Jerusalem.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: If you're a foreign national and have been in China, Thailand, Singapore, Japan or South Korea over the last two weeks, Israel will not allow you in. And because there's a wave of coronavirus cases in South Korea, Israel is sending home South Korean tourists. The Israeli airport authority released this video message.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We're doing our best to find them flights subsidized by the Israeli Airport Authority.

ESTRIN: South Korea's foreign minister called Israel's measures excessive. Israeli officials say they mean no offense but point to a group of South Korean tourists who tested positive for the virus after returning home from a recent trip to Israel. Arnon Afek is helping coordinate Israel's response.

ARNON AFEK: For us, it's a major event for a small country and they - because it's such a small country, they cross Israel over and over and over and over again.

ESTRIN: Israeli and Palestinian officials published the South Korean group's itinerary, and any locals within two meters of them for more than 15 minutes have to stay at home for two weeks. Today, more than 1,000 Israelis are quarantined at home, including anyone who recently visited China, Singapore, Japan, South Korea and Thailand. Singer Sagiv Cohen was in Thailand, which has about 40 confirmed cases out of a population of nearly 70 million people.

SAGIV COHEN: (Through interpreter) I'm more likely to die from a coconut landing on my head in Thailand. That's why I think this quarantine is completely unnecessary.

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PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is up for reelection next week, boasts that Israel has acted more stringently than others. Public health expert Dr. Hagai Levine worries politicians may be overreaching to impress voters.

HAGAI LEVINE: If the process is done with great speed and you don't consult all the right professionals and you don't publish what was the scientific justification for the decisions, then I'm worried the decisions may be not the best ones.

ESTRIN: But there are no reports of Israelis and Palestinians contracting the virus locally. Levine, the public health expert, acknowledges the border controls and quarantines may be helping.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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