Israel considers broadening entry restrictions for coronavirus

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday Israel might broaden its entry restrictions over coronavirus fears to include visitors from all countries.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, March 8, 2020. Oded Balilty/Pool via Reuters

Israel already requires travelers arriving from more than a dozen countries and territories in Europe and Asia to go into home quarantine for 14 days. The measure has effectively cut off tourism from those countries and led some foreign airlines to suspend flights to Israel.

The number of coronavirus cases in Israel rose to 39 from 25 on Sunday, with no deaths so far, the Health Ministry said. Some 80,000 Israelis are in self-quarantine after returning from travel abroad.

Netanyahu spoke by telephone on Sunday with U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence to discuss coronavirus concerns amid Israeli media reports that Israel was considering barring visitors from parts of the United States where the illness has spread.

Israeli political commentators have said Netanyahu, fearful of drawing criticism from a main ally, U.S. President Donald Trump, has resisted pressure by Israeli public health officials to add New York, the state of Washington and California to the restricted list.

At a news conference, Netanyahu said Israel was “weighing quarantine for everyone” flying into the country.

“We have reached the decision that if we take additional steps, it will apply to all countries,” he said. “But on the other hand, it is very difficult decision.”

He said a decision would be made on Monday in consultation with Israeli health authorities and emergency authorities.

Netanyahu and Pence agreed to follow up their telephone call with discussions between U.S. and Israeli health officials on technological and scientific cooperation and ways to tackle the virus, Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

Israel has already ordered travelers from Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Andorra, San Marino, Austria, Switzerland, China, Macau, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand to go into home quarantine.

Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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