A Magen David Adom worker packing protective supplies to send to China, February 2, 2020. (MDA) (MDA)
Magen David Adom China

From a startup that says it may have found a solution to the spread of COVID-19 to humanitarian groups sending aid to China, once again Israel leads the way during a time of crisis.

By David E. Kaplan, Lay of the Land

Dominating the news these days is a mysterious virus emanating out of China that has a passenger ship quarantined, flight routes suspended, international conferences cancelled and people panicking – where is it going to strike next?

Most disquieting is the ‘surprise factor’ – that something unknown one day can be so feared the next.

As the world grapples with this crisis, and in particular to find an antidote, joining the proverbial cavalry is an Israeli startup, Sonovia Ltd., which says it may have a solution to help stop the spread of the new deadly coronavirus “through novel technology for an anti-pathogen, anti-bacterial fabric.” It has sent the product over to labs in China for testing, notably the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and a medical lab in Chengdu.

Shay Herscovich, co-founder of the Ramat Gan-based Sonovia, established in 2013, explains:

“We have identified the methodology to determine the fabric’s ability to eliminate viruses and bacteria. We sent a number of fabrics to China, and it would require a few days to colonize the coronavirus on the fabric and evaluate if our technology can destroy it.”

Infusing metal oxide nanoparticles into textiles, Sonovia’s patented technology was developed as protective gear –  to see if the textiles would prove highly effective blocks against bacteria and fungi. Upbeat with the positive results following tests at laboratories at Israel’s Bar Ilan University, the relevant question today is whether Sonovia’s bacteria-fighting fabric can protect against the spread of coronavirus.

According to the company, the technology can be used on masks, protective clothing, hospital bedding and gowns, and other apparel to stop hospital-acquired infections. The enhanced textile “is able to maintain its anti-pathogen activity at up to 100 washes at 75° Celsius (167 Fahrenheit) and 65 washes at 92° Celsius (197 Fahrenheit),” says Sonovia scientist Dr. Jason Migdal.

The company, says Migdal, has tested the fabrics against a variety of infections, notably a pilot study in a European hospital that showed that when the textiles were used in protective clothing, there was a significant reduction in infections.

Migdal firmly believes that the same technology could be used to block viruses and potentially stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

In a company statement sent out to newsrooms Migdal said “In response to the global concern regarding the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCOV) in China, which has since spread to several other countries, we would like to accelerate the development of our technology.”

Now it is in the hands of the Chinese, who, according to Migdal, will follow a European protocol to test the fabric’s anti-viral activity.

A further advantage of the ‘face masks’ are that they are designed for repeated use and “could be distributed effectively where they are needed most in China,” says Migdal, “as well as being more sustainable to the environment.”

At the time of writing, there were officially 67,192 Coronavirus cases – the vast majority in China –  and 1,527 deaths.

More people have died from the coronavirus than during the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in 2002-2003.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak a global emergency and has warned governments to prepare for “domestic outbreak control” if the disease were to spread in their countries.

Last Flight To China

As China grapples with the current outbreak –  over and above the efforts of an Israeli start-up like Sonovia – there are other Israeli non-profit organisations responding to the region’s request for aid by donating sanitary masks, medical supplies, and protective gear.

Israel’s Magen David Adom (MDA) – Israel’s national emergency medical, disaster, ambulance and blood bank service – has contributed 2,000 masks and 200 full protection kits to help prevent the spread of coronavirus in China.

Also, the humanitarian aid organization IsraAID sent a shipment of emergency medical supplies and protective gear to the Chinese Ministry of Health on the last flight from Tel Aviv to mainland China. This project was done with partners Israel-China Chamber of Commerce, INNONATION and David Ashkenazi of ICCB Capital.

Yotam Polizer ,co-CEO of  IsraAID,  said his organization “will continue to monitor the situation and may launch a secondary response including mental health and psychosocial support for humanitarian aid workers and first responders working in the area, focusing on stress relief.”

The late Israeli humanitarian, peace activist and founder of the ‘Voice of Peace’ Abie Nathan would be impressed. I recall an interview with him in the late 1990s when he said, “My aim is that whenever there is a humanitarian crisis in the world, I want an Israel team there among the first  to bring relief.”

Israel is proud to respond to the call from China.