Alarm in the holy land after visit by pilgrims with coronavirus

Tourists visited popular sites, including Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Cave of the Patriarchs. (Pixabay pic)

JERUSALEM: Israeli and Palestinian authorities sought to quell fears of a potential local outbreak of the coronavirus after learning that South Korean pilgrims who had toured some of the holy land’s most popular sites were later found to be carrying the virus.

The nine tourists, who tested positive for coronavirus after returning to South Korea, earlier this month visited holy sites including Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Cave of the Patriarchs in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, according to Israel’s Health Ministry.

The ministry published the group’s itinerary and said it was carrying out an “epidemiological investigation” to track any potential spread.

It ordered anyone who was in close contact with the group to report it to the ministry and to stay at home for 14 days while monitoring their health.

The Palestinian Health Ministry issued similar instructions for the Palestinian territories.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry called an emergency meeting to assess the impact of what it called “the pilgrims affair” and, if needed, to take steps to explain the situation to others around the world.

South Korea on Saturday reported a jump in the number of new coronavirus cases in the country.

An Israeli woman who was aboard the coronavirus-hit cruise ship Diamond Princess tested positive for the virus after returning to Israel on Friday but was in good condition and not showing any symptoms, health officials said.

There have been no other confirmed cases of the virus in Israel or the Palestinian territories.