The deputy chief of the Chinese Embassy in Israel, Dai Yuming, said on Sunday during a briefing for the public following the outbreak of the corona virus that "China opened its doors to the Jewish people during dark times and we didn't close it. I hope that Israel won't close the door to the Chinese."
Dai was presumably referring to the genocide of six million Jews in the Holocaust, during which some Jews sought refuge in China. He expressed hope that the Jewish state will not bar entry to Chinese people trying to enter the country over health concerns surrounding the virus, which has already claimed the lives of more than 300 people.
The embassy later issued a clarification and apologized, saying that "there was no intention whatsoever to compare the dark days of the Holocaust with the current situation and the efforts taken by the Israeli government to protect its citizens.
"We would like to apologize if someone understood our message the wrong way," the embassy said.
Earlier Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that he has instructed government researchers to work on developing and then producing a coronavirus vaccine, adding that it was inevitable that the virus would spread to Israel.
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.
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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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.