JERUSALEM, March 9 (Reuters) - Israel will require anyone arriving from overseas to self-quarantine for 14 days as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday.
Israel has already taken some tough measures to prevent a local coronavirus outbreak, forcing visitors from many countries in Asia and Europe into home isolation. This has hit travel and trade, with tourism in particular expected to suffer.
"Anyone who arrives in Israel from abroad will enter a 14-day isolation," Netanyahu said in a video statement. He said this would be in effect for two weeks initially.
"This is a difficult decision. But it is essential for safeguarding public health, and public health comes first."
Government officials said the order would come into force immediately for Israelis returning to the country. From Thursday, any non-Israelis seeking to enter the country will have to prove they have the means to self-quarantine, the officials said.
Israeli media said the latest measure would mean quarantine for some 300,000 citizens in a country of around 9 million. The Health Ministry has said Israel currently has 42 confirmed cases of coronavirus.
Uncertainty about the impact of the new measures hit Tel Aviv's blue-chip stock index and the broader TA-125 which were both down around 6.5%.
The shekel, which peaked against the dollar in mid-February at 3.416, was trading at about 3.5 at on Monday.
Israel’s central bank has said it did not expect a major economic impact if the virus was halted in the coming months, but that it was ready to use monetary policy tools “whenever necessary” should conditions worsen.
Netanyahu held a video conference on Monday with leaders of Italy, Austria, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Cyprus to discuss cooperation during the crisis.
"We each have our own experiences. We see what works, what doesn't work and we can trade with each other," he said during the conference call, which was open to the media.
Israeli public broadcaster Kan said the quarantine restrictions were even affecting the country's intelligence service. Kan said, without citing sources, that returning Mossad operatives had been ordered to stay at home for two weeks.
Thirteen Americans were heading home from the Holy Land on Monday after they were cleared in a coronavirus scare, the mayor of the Palestinian town where they had been quarantined said.
The group, from the 3Circle Church in Fairhope, Alabama, was placed in quarantine at the Angel Hotel in Beit Jala on Wednesday after several hotel staff there tested positive.
$1 = 3.4994 shekels Writing by Dan Williams. Editing by Jane Merriman