A fourth Israeli on the cruise ship that was quarantined for two weeks in a Japanese port was diagnosed with coronovirus COVID-19 on Thursday.
Eleven other Israelis who were aboard the ship but have not contracted the virus are expected to return to Israel on a special charter flight that will arrive in the country before the weekend.
Upon landing they will be taken to Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer hospital for an additional quarantine period of 14 days.
The four Israelis who tested positive for the new coronavirus will remain in Japan for treatment.
New cases of coronavirus keep dropping, in a trend that has been partly attributed to change of the diagnosic criteria in the epicentre of Wuhan. China had 394 new confirmed cases on Wednesday, the National Health Commission said, sharply down from 1,749 cases a day earlier and the lowest since January 23.That brings the total accumulated number of confirmed cases in mainland China to 74,576, and worlwide to more than 75,000. More than 14,000 patients have recovered.
'We're happy to be off the ship, but we're worried'
After two weeks of isolation, hundreds of passengers on the Diamond Princess who tested negative for the COVID-19 virus began to leave the ship, which is docked off Yokohama, Japan. Japanese health authorities said some 500 people would leave the ship Wednesday, with the remainder disembarking over the next two days. The authorities said it would not release passengers who had shared a cabin with a coronavirus patient, even if they themselves are not sick.
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The Japanese government said on Thursday that two people from the cruise ship, both in their 80s, have died from coronavirus infections and that another two government officials have tested positive for the infection.
One of the officials was from the Health Ministry and the other from the Cabinet Secretariat, and both had worked on the Diamond Princess, a health ministry official told a news conference. Three other officials, from the health ministry and quarantine office, had previously tested positive for the virus.
Lena Samuelov, one of the Israelis on the cruise ship, was interviewed by Army Radio and complained that she hadn’t yet been allowed to disembark. “Yesterday in private conversations, Dr. Grotto [Itamar Grotto, deputy director general of the Health Ministry] said that we would be among the first to leave the ship. That’s not what happened ... we were told we would have to wait patiently. But we’ve already lost patience. Why should we stay here anymore? What are the professor and the consuls doing to get 12 Israelis off the boat? Are they waiting for us to get sick? What will that get us? Who has the right to hold us here? This isn’t a prison.”
Edna and Henry Ben Shabbat, a couple taken off the boat Wednesday morning, said, “We’re happy to be off the ship but at the same time we’re worried until all the Israelis are taken off. We feel good. During our release we underwent numerous tests before they put us on the bus.”
Prof. Ran Nir-Paz, a senior physician at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem and an expert on infectious diseases who was sent to Tokyo by the Health Ministry, and Israel’s consul general in Japan, Revital Ben Naim, visited the two military hospital where the four Israelis carrying the virus will be hospitalized. “We see the Japanese are providing good treatment and we will of course continue to monitor the situation closely,” Nir-Paz said.
One hospitalized Israel was interviewed by Ayala Hasson on Radio 103 FM, and explained how she and her husband were diagnosed. “They did a saliva test both on me and my husband and that was the result,” she said. “There was no fever, no coughing, nothing, and that’s how we still feel now.”
Despite the determined effort to restrain the spread of the new coronavirus on the ship, more and more scientists argue that in fact the ship served as an incubator for the virus. Even as passengers rolled their luggage off the Diamond Princess, Japanese authorities announced 79 new cases had been discovered on board, bringing the total above 620, well over half of the known cases outside mainland China.
Infectious disease specialist Kentaro Iwata of Japan’s Kobe University Hospital, who volunteered to help aboard the ship, described the infection control effort on board as “completely inadequate” and said basic protocols had not been followed.“There was no single professional infection control person inside the ship and there was nobody in charge of infection prevention. The bureaucrats were in charge of everything,” he said in a YouTube video. Iwata also told Britain’s Guardian newspaper that those who left the ship should be prevented from moving about freely and should be monitored so they can be treated if necessary. Several scientists noted that three representatives of the Japanese Health Ministry, who helped in checking the quarantined passengers, were themselves infected.
From the start, experts raised questions about quarantine on the ship. Passengers were not confined to their rooms until February 5. The day before, as passengers were being screened, events continued, including dances, quiz games and an exercise class.
In addition, while the passengers spent most of the past two weeks in their rooms, crew members whose job it was to deliver food to the rooms continued to use a common shower and ate their meals together.
Starting Thursday, tour groups that spent any of the past 14 days in Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau will be blocked from entering Israel, as the Health Ministry expands its restrictions to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Earlier this week, the Health Ministry blocked individual tourists who had spend any of the previous two weeks in those countries, as well as China, from entering Israel. Israelis returning from those areas must remain quarantined at home for the first 14 days after their return.
An international consensus appears to be forming that the global economic harm will be limited if the virus is swiftly contained. International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said in a blog post that China’s economy would bounce back quickly if the disruptions end soon.
Reuters contributed to this article.