Netanyahu Says Israel to Begin Developing Coronavirus Vaccine

Local hospital in north seeking to diagnose a woman who came to the emergency room Sunday with mild symptoms after returning from China

Members of a family in the Philippines wear masks against the coronavirus.
Aaron Favila/AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that he has instructed government researchers to work on developing and then producing a coronavirus vaccine, adding that it was inevitable that the virus, which has killed 305 people, all of one of whom died in China, would spread to Israel.

Israel's Institute for Biological Research and the Israeli Health Ministry have been tasked with creating a vaccine, Netanyahu said after meeting with officials about how to address the spread of the virus. The Israeli National Security Council will coordinate efforts to deal with the problem in Israel, the Prime Minister's Office said.

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"Our goal is first of all to postpone the virus' arrival in Israel. I say 'postpone' because it is inevitable that it will arrive," Netanyahu said. The aim, he said, is then to identify those infected, to quarantine them at home for two weeks and to treat them.

"We are also briefing the Palestinian Authority about all the preventative steps and public health [issues] that they also need to take into account," he added.

A 55-year-old Israeli woman who lives in the Golan Heights and returned 10 days ago from China, where she went for a business trip, came to the emergency room at Poriya Hospital in Tiberias on Sunday over suspicions that she may have contracted the disease.

Dr. Hiba Abu Zayyad, the director of the hospital's infectious disease prevention unit, said the patient has mild symptoms and that all procedures required by the Health Ministry were followed on the patient's arrival at the hospital.

On Friday, Israel's Foreign Ministry recommended against travel to China and urged all residents of Israel in China to leave after suspending all direct flights to the country on Thursday. Israel is barring the entry of anyone who has visited China in the past two weeks and is not an Israeli citizen or resident.

The spread of the coronavirus over the past two months to 18 countries prompted the World Health Organization on Thursday to declare a global emergency. The Israeli prime minister had praise for China's efforts to address the spread of the virus.

The Philippines reported the first death from the virus outside of China on Sunday, bringing the death toll to 305. China's National Health Commission has reported 14,380 cases of the disease in the country – well above the number of those infected in the outbreak in 2002-2003 of SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome, which initially surfaced in southern China and spread around the world.