Two attendees at pro-Israel AIPAC conference test positive for coronavirus

Two attendees at pro-Israel AIPAC conference test positive for coronavirus
Two New Yorkers have tested positive for the coronavirus since attending the huge AIPAC annual conference.
3 min read
07 March, 2020
More than two-thirds of Congress members attended the conference [Getty]
Two people who attended the annual conference of prominent pro-Israel lobby AIPAC earlier this week have tested positive for the coronavirus, the group tweeted on Friday.

The cases, in two people from New York, are the first linked to the nation's capital, where the conference was held.

Thousands of people attend the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee policy conference every year - with those
present this week including more than two-thirds of Congress and several Trump administration officials.

The conference went ahead without worries of cancellation despite a number of high-profile events being cancelled worldwide in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. Saudi Arabia has suspended the voluntary Umrah pilgrimage, while Switzerland cancelled all events hosting more than 1,000 people, including the world-famous Geneva Motor Show.

Vice President Mike Pence, who is heading the Trump administration's response to the coronavirus, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were among the speakers.

Israel on Wednesday ordered citizens returning from international conferences to self-quarantine to prevent the spread of the virus.

Organisers of the AIPAC conference reportedly distributed hand sanitiser to the more than 18,000 attendees and urged visitors not to touch their noses or hug each other.

Pence and Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health appeared to have been caught unaware of the positive tests in the two AIPAC attendees.

Asked at a White House briefing if he was concerned that the coronavirus was now in Washington, Pence said it was the first he had heard about the cases in the midst of a busy day.

"We will be engaged. I'm confident in the same contact tracing that we are for any case," he said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health called contact tracing — the process of trying to find out whom the person had been in contact with — "the public health weapon". 

"We need to get those people isolated to do the contact tracing," he said. "We don't have enough information now because this is the first I've actually heard about it also."

AIPAC used Twitter to announce the positive test results: "We have confirmed that at least two Policy Conference attendees from New York have tested positive for the coronavirus," it said.

The group said it is in contact with health officials in Westchester County, New York, and Washington. It urged attendees to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and to consult with their doctors if they feel ill or have medical questions.

"If you test positive for coronavirus, we urge you to inform your local health authorities so they can properly coordinate their response to this situation with the appropriate health authorities," AIPAC said.

Washington has been criticised for its response to the coronavirus spread, with the CDC accused of lagging behind other countries in providing testing for suspected cases of the deadly virus.

Critics say the expensive American healthcare system, a high number of uninsured people and the country's lack of paid sick leave are factors likely to aid the spread of COVID-19. 

At least 17 people have died from the novel coronavirus across the US. 

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