Virus carrier nabbed on bus to J’lem, accused of deliberately endangering public

A coronavirus carrier was arrested Sunday on a bus on its way to Jerusalem, on suspicion of deliberately spreading the disease.

Police said in a statement that the suspect, a confirmed COVID-19 patient, was taken in for questioning on Route 1, and that all the other bus passengers were ordered to quarantine for 14 days.

It also said the driver of the bus had been fined NIS 5,000 ($1,400) for having 34 passengers on the bus, more than the 25 currently allowed for that type of vehicle.

Hebrew-language media reported that the virus patient was a man in his 30s from the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Beitar Illit, near Jerusalem, who had been on a 960 bus from Haifa to the capital. It was unclear why he was making that journey.

The man reportedly returned from abroad last week and on Sunday tested positive for the virus. Despite knowing he had been infected, he decided to leave home quarantine and get on a bus. His family was said to have called police to alert them to the danger.

Video footage showed the suspect being led by Magen David Adom paramedics in medical gear into an ambulance.

The Beitar Illit Municipality said in a statement that the man was known to welfare authorities in the city.

“We utterly condemn any violation of the orders,” it said. “A person who doesn’t adhere 100 percent to the Health Ministry instructions is simply endangering lives, and should pay the price for that.”

The arrest was one of the causes of massive traffic jams on the main highway to Jerusalem, as police put up roadblocks to stop people who weren’t supposed to be traveling.

Police officer Sigal Bar-Tzvi told Channel 12 it was the third or fourth incident in which someone who knew they were sick left a hospital or other quarantine facility and endangered public health. She said there had been another incident in the north in which a patient also used public transportation.

The TV report said the suspect faced up to seven years in jail for knowingly endangering public health. It said without elaboration that he was known to the welfare authorities in Beitar Illit.

According to Health Ministry figures released Sunday morning, there have been 47 deaths in Israel from the virus, and 8,018 people were confirmed to be infected.

There were 127 people in serious condition and 106 on ventilators, while 477 people have recovered from the disease.

In figures released Friday morning, the ministry said the highest number of cases across the country was recorded in Jerusalem (1,003), followed by the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak (966) and Tel Aviv-Jaffa (335). Bnei Brak, one-quarter the size of the capital by population, was closed off by police on Friday morning to stem the outbreak.

A senior Health Ministry official on Saturday called for additional areas in Israel with a high number of cases to be declared restricted zones, allowing the government to further curtail movement in these places in a bid to limit the virus’s spread.

Among the cities the official cited to Hebrew media were several with predominantly ultra-Orthodox populations, such as Elad and the West Bank settlement of Modiin Illit, as well as several Haredi neighborhoods in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh.

However, Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov also struck a cautiously optimistic note on Saturday, following reports that officials believe the current rate of infection in the country is rising at a relatively controlled rate and shows signs of remaining within levels that the health system can tolerate.

“The fact that we are holding discussions about an exit strategy from the crisis is a privilege,” he said.

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