Photo Credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90
Deputy health minister Yaakov Litzman in an isolation cell with a mannequin (archive image).

Israel’s Health Ministry announced on Sunday that three Israeli citizens on-board the Diamond Princess cruise ship have been infected with the Coronavirus (now officially renamed COVID-19). Their condition is light. Two of the infected passengers were taken to a hospital in Japan, and Israel is expected to send a specialist to accompany them throughout the medical procedure.

The Health Ministry reported that they are examining the possibility of returning home the Israeli passengers who have not been infected with the virus, through their insurance companies. Upon their return, they will go into isolation and remain under surveillance.

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Earlier, Israeli ambassador to Tokyo Yaffa Ben-Ari updated the Foreign Ministry informally that three of the Israelis on the cruise ship were probably infected with the virus. The ambassador also updated the Health Ministry Deputy Director General Prof. Itamar Grotto, who has landed in South Korea and will arrive in Tokyo on Sunday.

Diamond Princess is a British cruise ship owned and operated by Princess Cruises. Earlier in February, 3,700 passengers and crew were quarantined by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. Passengers with confirmed cases were taken ashore for treatment. On February 13, 44 more passengers tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total to 218.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said that Minister Israel Katz is trying to convince the Japanese to allow the Israelis on the ship to leave and be transferred to a quarantine in Israel in collaboration with Israel’s Health Ministry. There have been attempts to set up a phone conversation between Katz and Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi.

The US State Department is sending a charter plane to evacuate Americans aboard the Diamond Princess. On Saturday, the American embassy in Tokyo sent a letter to US citizens aboard the ship informing them of the planned extraction scheduled for Sunday night.

Apparently, Toshimitsu Motegi does pick up the phone when the person on the other end is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Nicole Ben-David, who is on the Diamond Princes, told Ynet that she was alarmed about the fact that three Israelis have been infected with the virus.

“My whole family is healthy but we have not received any message from the ship’s crew, doctors or the embassy,” she said. “It just hones the point that isolating us here was wrong and that we should have been taken to a quarantine in Israel. If people have been infected in the last few days it means they should have been evacuated before.”

“We were naive and listened to the Japanese authorities,” Nicole added. “We’re at risk and a bit shaken. I suppose we could have been taken out and shipped home in a sterile way, but it wasn’t done.”

On Saturday night, another 70 passengers on the cruise ship were found to be infected with the virus. The Japanese Ministry of Health said 355 people had so far been infected on-board the ship, now dubbed the Corona Ship. There are some 3,700 passengers and crew on the Diamond Princess, including 15 Israelis.

Overnight, the number of dead from the coronavirus in China rose to 1,665, after Chinese authorities announced that 142 new patients had died Saturday. Over the past day, 2,009 new cases of virus infection have been reported, bringing the total of people infected across China so far to 68,500. More than 69,000 people have been infected with the virus worldwide.

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