The Corona virus, also known as COVID 19, is spreading steadily throughout the world. At first it seemed to be confined to one region of China, then to other places in the Far East, but now it’s getting closer every day, appearing first in Italy and then in the rest of Europe, the Middle East and now even Israel.

The unfortunate Israelis who happened to be on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, commonly known in Israel as the Corona Ship, were first confined to their cabins for a fortnight, then isolated in Japan, and when finally allowed to return to Israel (not all of them though, as a few were found to be carriers before being able to board the plane bringing them to Israel, so had to remain behind), only to be subjected to another two weeks of isolation in a hospital in Israel. One sad result of this was that one couple had to be separated, the wife returning to Israel and the husband remaining in isolation in Japan. Those two happen to live quite near to me in Mevasseret, though I do not know them personally. I’ve read about them in the local paper, and my sympathies certainly go out to them.

Meanwhile, a group of tourists from South Korea who visited various holy places and sites in Israel were found to be infected with the virus on their return to Korea. Unfortunately, several classes of middle-school pupils happened to have been visiting the same sites just then, and several hundred of them are now in isolation in their own homes. Israelis returning from Italy and various countries of the Far East have been told to remain in self-imposed isolation in their homes for two weeks following their arrival, though no controls are imposed on how they are supposed to reach those homes. Obviously, they should not use public transport, but who can control that? Henceforth anyone returning from any of those countries will have to go into voluntary isolation for two weeks at home, and in fact flights to and from those countries have been banned. Many people have cancelled flights to anywhere and everywhere.

At the recent general election special isolation polling booths were set up in various parts of the country, manned by people in protective suits. These provided special double envelopes into which the unfortunate individuals were supposed to insert their ballot slips. How they could be removed without risk of infection beats me, but it appears to have been done, to everyone’s satisfaction.

Some twenty or so Israelis who have returned from Italy have been found to be infected, and some of them have already infected others, so there’s no knowing how far the disease will spread. We are assured that the disease is not much worse than influenza, but people over the age of sixty-five are apparently particularly vulnerable and are liable to die as a result of contracting the virus. Help! That’s me, and a lot of my friends. The remedy would seem to be to stay at home, but that’s rather a lot to ask of people who are anyway fairly cut off from the world.

Every now and again the radio broadcasts the news that another Israeli has been found to have caught the virus, and that he (or she) recently returned on a flight from Italy, and all the passengers who happened to be on flight XYZ are requested to remain at home for the next two weeks.

At a recent family celebration to mark the arrival of a new baby I declined to kiss and be kissed by any of my relatives. I felt terrible doing this, and explained it by pointing out that I’m in a high-risk group. Even shaking hands is supposed to be potentially dangerous, but I couldn’t bring myself to refrain from doing that.

We have attended a concert and a performance of an opera (Rossini’s ‘Barber of Seville’) in the last couple of weeks, and didn’t see anyone wearing a mask. In the ‘Barber of Seville’ one of the characters feigns illness, and in the Hebrew translation of the Italian libretto the reference to someone having been ill was changed to read that he should have been in isolation. That brought a smile to everyone’s lips, and even some very restrained laughter.

Someone I know was due to return to Israel from the USA with a stop-over in Italy. This would have meant staying home for two weeks with no ability to work, go shopping or see anyone. His friend, a relative of mine who is now based in the USA, spent over an hour on the phone with the airline to change the stop-over destination. Eventually he succeeded, though I’m not sure whether this incurred an extra cost.

One thing is sure, however, and that is that an increasing number of people are curtailing their visits to the cinema, sports events, and even going to the supermarket. I’ve been told to take disinfectant wipes with me wherever I go so that I can attempt to clean any surfaces, e.g., supermarket trolley handles, airplane armrests, hotel light switches and remote controls, etc.

All this is having a deleterious effect on the domestic and global economy, and it only remains to be seen how long this train of events will continue to batter us all.