Israel bars flights from China over virus fears: health minister

Israel's national carrier El Al announced on Thursday it was suspending flights to Beijing, its only destination in mainland China, until March 25 (AFP Photo/JACK GUEZ) (AFP/File)

Jerusalem (AFP) - Israel's health minister said Thursday that the country would bar all flights from China over the coronavirus epidemic, as fears of global contagion grew.

"We shall not allow any flight in the near future from China to land in this country, not one," Yaakov Litzman said at a televised press conference.

He added that anyone already in Israel who had travelled from China, or stopped over there on the way from another country, should stay at home for 14 days and not mix with the general public, even if they had no symptoms.

Earlier Thursday, Israel's national carrier El Al announced it was suspending flights to Beijing, its only destination in mainland China, until March 25.

According to the World Health Organisation, the virus has already killed 170 people.

There have been no recorded incidents of the new coronavirus in Israel yet, but the health ministry said Wednesday it was "a matter of time".

Major airlines that have suspended or pared back services to China include British Airways, German flag carrier Lufthansa, American Airlines, KLM and United.

A growing number of governments -- including Britain, Germany and the United States -- have advised their citizens to avoid non-essential travel to China.

Chinese authorities have taken extraordinary steps to arrest the virus's spread, including effectively locking down more than 50 million people in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province.

The contagion has spread to nearly every corner of China, with remote Tibet reporting its first case on Thursday.

It has triggered fears in part due to its striking similarity to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak of 2002-03, which also began in China and eventually killed nearly 800 people worldwide.