A special clinic was opened Thursday afternoon at Ben Gurion International Airport in order to address the swine flu threat. For the time being, only passengers arriving from Mexico will be examined, the Health Ministry ruled.
According to the latest instructions, anyone found to be suffering from high fever as well as another symptom, such as a cough or a sore throat, will be sent to the emergency room. Should anyone refuse to follow the instructions, doctors at the site have been given the authority to order forced hospitalization.
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Earlier Thursday, the Health Ministry announced its decision to raise its pandemic alert level for swine flu to Phase 5 of six. People returning from Mexico were instructed not to arrive at crowded places and not to use public transportation.
Also Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called an emergency meeting to discuss the possible threat of a swine flu epidemic in Israel. Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman and other senior Health Ministry officials took part in the meeting, held at the Prime Minister's Office's Tel Aviv bureau.
Another decision made was to instruct all arrival ports to use stricter screening of incoming passengers, both from Mexico and any other countries hit by the virus, for possible exposure.
According to the plan, each person landing at Ben-Gurion Airport after visiting Mexico will be examined by a doctor before entering the country.
Additional steps decided on during the meeting:
- Each person entering Israel will be asked to declare whether he/she had visited Mexico in the past week – and will be examined accordingly.
- The Health Ministry will send doctors to all of Israel's border crossings and entrances.
- The Health Ministry will continue monitoring the patients and order them to stay at home.
- The Health Ministry has been instructed to increase the supply of medications for the disease and ignore budgetary constraints.
- The Foreign Ministry will halt the departure of delegations from Israel to Mexico.
- A travel advisory will be issued calling on Israelis to refrain from visiting Mexico.
- The Foreign Ministry will ask the Mexican authorities to refrain from sending delegations and tourists to Israel.
- A daily meeting will be held to discuss the issue and decided on further readiness moves.
So far, lab tests conducted in Israel have confirmed that two patients have been infected with the virus, while four other patients tested negative. Several people were hospitalized Thursday for fear of having been infected with the virus.
Purifying buses in Mexico (Photo: AFP)
The Israeli decision to screen arrivals was made just hours after the World Health Organization's decision to up its pandemic alert to Phase 5 of six. WHO Director-General Margaret Chan called on pharmaceutical companies to increase manufacturing of anti-H1N2 virus medication and appealed to the World Bank to help finance the fight on swine flu.
Chan also warned that the "all of humanity is under pandemic threat" and urged world nations to put their prevention contingencies in action.
Eleven countries, including Israel, have so far confirmed swine flu cases within their borders.
The Health Ministry has opened a special swine flu hotline in order to deal with the public's inquiries on the virus. The hotline will be operational between 7 am and 7 pm, at 972-3-6951541, or *3090 (for local landlines only).
Roni Sofer and Raanan Ben-Zur contributed to this report