Israel's Health Ministry said Sunday that three Israeli nationals who were on board a cruise ship that had been placed in a two-week quarantine tested positive for coronavirus.
Two of the Israelis, a couple, have been transferred to a Japanese hospital in mild condition. A third Israeli was diagnosed shortly after disembarking the cruise ship. Israel is expected to send an expert physician to accompany them.
The Diamond Princess, owned by Carnival Corp, has been quarantined since arriving in Yokohama, southwest of Tokyo, on February 3, after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong before it travelled to Japan was diagnosed with the virus.
The ship, with some 3,700 passengers and crew on board, has seen 355 cases of corovirus, the most infections outside China.
Israel's Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz said the other 12 Israelis still on the ship will be flown back to Israel, at the expense of their insurance companies. They will be quarantined upon their return and will not be posing a threat to the public, he added.
Prof. Eyal Leshem from Sheba Medical Center told Haaretz it will not be possible for Israelis who tested positive for coronavirus to be flown back to Israel.
"It's problematic to fly an infected patient with such a contagious virus in a plane with a partially closed ventilation system," Leshem said, explaining that those who come into contact with patients, including the plane's crew, are at risk and would have to be quarantined for two weeks. "Luckily, they [Israeli patients] are being treated in Japan, where there is a modern health care system," he said.
Leshem noted that the virus poses a greater threat to the elderly and that for many patients the infection begins as a light respiratory illness and develops within a week to a serious condition.
The United States, Canada and Hong Kong are sending aircraft to Japan to bring back their citizens on board the ship.
The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said passengers and crew on board the ship were at high risk of exposure to the virus and it recommended that its citizens get off and take one of the flights home.
"This is a rapidly evolving situation and we are taking additional steps to assist U.S. citizens," it said.
The embassy said all passengers would be screened before being allowed to board the chartered flights and everyone would be quarantined for 14 days upon arrival back in the United States.
"No symptomatic or infected passengers will be allowed to board," it said.
Clyde Smith, 80, who was evacuated from the ship to a Tokyo hospital after testing positive for the virus told Reuters on Sunday he had not been told if would be allowed on a U.S. evacuation plane.
Hong Kong authorities said they were also sending chartered flights to bring Hong Kong residents and Canada has also chartered a plane to repatriate Canadians on the ship, its government said.
Latest figures from Beijing on Sunday showed 68,500 cases of the illness and 1,665 deaths, mostly in Hubei province.
Japan has had 53 cases of the coronavirus, apart from those on the ship, NHK reported, with one of only four deaths from the virus outside mainland China in Japan.
Hong Kong, the Philippines and France have all had single virus deaths.
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