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Coronavirus fever? Israel cancels school trips to Europe, PM stops shaking hands

Israel had been caught up in coronavirus fears after some Israelis contracted the virus aboard a cruise ship in Japan and a tour group of South Korean Catholics were diagnosed with the disease after leaving Israel.

Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stopped shaking hands on the campaign trail. Netanyahu was captured on film refusing to shake hands and offering the Hindu greeting, “namaste,” with a bow while an aide of his was heard saying, “No handshakes.”

The news of the Korean tour group of 77 sent Israel into panic and prompted the Ministry of Health to require 200 students and teachers in Beersheba who came in contact with the tourists to go into home-quarantine.

At a visit to the Tomb of the Patriarchs holy site in Hebron on Tuesday, the prime minister was filmed refusing to shake hands with people he met in the West Bank city. The footage was broadcast by the Kan public broadcaster, six days before the national elections.

In the clip, Netanyahu is seen visiting the holy site when someone reaches out his hand. The prime minister doesn’t extend his own hand, and an aide is heard saying, “No handshakes.” But The Times of Israel reported that a source told them the prime minister decided on his own to be “responsible” since he “meets with thousands of [campaign] activists daily.”

The Ministry of Education canceled official school trips to Poland to visit Holocaust sites — a routine element of Israel’s high school curriculum — until at least March 4 over fears of the contagious disease.

“Since the coronavirus is continuing to spread across the world, including to the European continent, and for the sake of preventative caution, it is appropriate at this time to suspend trips of students to Poland until the situation has become clear,” Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov said.

In the meantime, one of the four Israelis who contracted coronavirus on the cruise ship in Japan, has recovered and was released from the hospital. She has a family member still hospitalized in Tokyo along with three other Israelis.

“The virus is breaking through international borders, that’s the fear,” Bar Siman-Tov said. “We assume there is a high likelihood of coronavirus happening in Israel.”

The Tel Aviv municipality also made the controversial decision to ban foreigners from running in the city’s marathon on Friday. The foreigners may still enter the country leaving many to wonder how this will prevent the disease from spreading, if it even was a threat.

Israel has taken the most drastic measures of any country so far at its airports, banning all foreign nationals who have been to South Korea and Japan in the past 14 days, while also denying entry to anyone from China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand and Singapore.

Israelis who were on the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off Japan returned home this week (Israeli Embassy in Japan)

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