12 Israelis From Cruise Ship Quarantined in Japan Due to Coronavirus to Return Home

A specially leased plane will bring them to Israel on Thursday, and they will be quarantined in an isolated building in the hospital for further observation

A bus arrives near the cruise ship Diamond Princess, where dozens of passengers tested positive for coronavirus, in Yokohama, Japan, February 16, 2020.
ATHIT PERAWONGMETHA/ REUTERS

Twelve of 15 Israeli vacationers from the cruise ship Diamond Princess who have completed their two-week quarantine following the outbreak of the new coronavirus on board are expected to leave for Israel on Wednesday. More than 2,000 other passengers are to leave the ship, anchored in Yokohama, Japan, to be evacuated to various countries. About 400 Americans were evacuated at the beginning of the week.

The Israelis will fly to Israel on a plane leased especially for this purpose, and are expected to arrive on Thursday. They will be taken to Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, where they will be quarantined in a building allocated especially for this purpose – it is isolated from the various hospital departments.

The building is not connected to the hospital’s sewage, water or ventilation systems, but rather has independent systems for these purposes. A special medical team has been assigned to treat the passengers during their time at the hospital.

Many scientists say the quarantine aboard the Diamond Princess was a failed experiment: The ship seemed to serve as an incubator for the new virus from China instead of an isolation facility meant to prevent the worsening of an outbreak.

Travelers wearing face masks arrive to Ben-Gurion International Airport, February 17, 2020.
Moti Milrod

As of Tuesday, 542 cases of the virus, known as COVID-19, have been identified among the 3,711 quarantined passengers and crew, making the ship the site of the most infections outside of China. The Japanese government has repeatedly defended the effectiveness of the quarantine. But some experts suggest it may have been less than rigorous.

In a possible sign of lax quarantine protocols, three Japanese health officials who helped in the quarantine checks on the ship were also infected.

The three Israelis who tested positive for coronavirus have remained in Japan. The Health Ministry sent Prof. Ran Nir-Paz of Hadassah Medical Center, an expert on infectious diseases, to Tokyo to observe the treatment of the three Israelis, who were evacuated from the ship after testing positive for the virus. Nir-Paz, together with the Israeli consul in Japan, Revital Ben Naim, visited the two military hospitals where the Israeli patients are hospitalized. A couple is in one of the facilities and one man is in the other.

Nir-Paz and Ben Naim met with the medical teams taking care of the Israelis, all three of whom are in isolation. “We see good treatment by the Japanese and we will of course continue to monitor the situation firsthand,” Nir-Paz said.

Dr. Nathalie MacDermott, an outbreak expert at King’s College London, said the exact mechanism of the virus’ spread was unknown. Although scientists believe the disease is spread mostly by droplets – when people cough or sneeze – it’s possible there are other ways of transmission.

“There’s no reason this [quarantine] should not have worked if it had been done properly,” she said.

Cruise ships have sometimes been struck by outbreaks of diseases like norovirus, which can spread quickly in the close quarters of a boat and among elderly passengers with weaker immune systems.

Some passengers on the Diamond Princess described the ship as a “floating prison” but were allowed to walk on the decks every day while wearing a mask and were told to keep their distance from others.