Abandon ship: 7 things to know for February 21
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Abandon ship: 7 things to know for February 21

Israelis who had been stuck on quarantined ship return to Israel for another quarantine; at least one is found to be carrying the virus, marking the country’s first confirmed case

Professor Galia Rahavm, head of infectious diseases at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer in Ramat Gan, shows one of the rooms where returning Israelis with suspected exposure to coronavirus will stay under observation and isolation, Ramat Gan, February 19, 2020. (Heidi Levine/Pool via AP)
Professor Galia Rahavm, head of infectious diseases at the Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer in Ramat Gan, shows one of the rooms where returning Israelis with suspected exposure to coronavirus will stay under observation and isolation, Ramat Gan, February 19, 2020. (Heidi Levine/Pool via AP)

1. Home again, after two weeks holed up on a luxury ship: Israel gets its first confirmed case of coronavirus after one of 11 Israelis let off a quarantined ship anchored in Japan and flown back to the country is diagnosed with the illness. All 11 returnees are being confined to a special quarantine ward at Sheba Medical Center, but they are pretty much everywhere across the Israeli media landscape Friday morning after their return to Israeli soil.

  • Videos of the 11 disembarking and making their way onto a minibus to be taken to Sheba medical center abound, with the group in high spirits; no surprise considering the fact that their ordeal consisted of being stuck on a luxury liner that people pay thousands of dollars for and then being flown across the world in a private jet (though one would hardly know it from the way their plight was covered, as if they were begging for liberation from a gulag.)
  • “We’re healthy, we’re not sick,” one passenger can be heard saying in a video — somewhat wrongly, it turns out — as another cries out a traditional Jewish prayer said upon reaching a momentous occasion.
  • “We’re so massively happy that our suffering is over and we’ve been allowed off the ship,” passenger Lena Samuelov is quoted telling Israel Hayom just before getting on the plane to Israel, apparently somehow under the impression that an Israeli hospital — a makeshift one at that — is going to offer her better conditions than the luxury liner.
  • After arriving at the hospital Samuelov tells Kan she has not changed her mind. “It’s not a five-star hotel, but we have what we need here,” she says.

2. Preparation ‘F’: While Channel 12 news and other sites reported on all the safety precautions that were to be taken by those dealing with the passengers in transit, videos from the tarmac show many people with nothing but a mask.

  • In the background of one video tweeted out by Channel 13 news, a member of the plane’s crew can be seen vacuuming the flying sick ward without any visible protection (it’s hard to tell if he has a mask, but one has to assume).
  • Ynet notes that the plane refueled in Tbilisi so that it would not have to do so in Israel, thus making sure the crew could take off as soon as possible after dropping off the Israelis and not set a single virus-y foot on Israeli soil.
  • Besides Israel, Australia and the US have both reported multiple cases of people who returned to their countries from the ship having the virus despite being cleared by Japan.
  • AFP notes that the cases “will fuel questions about Tokyo’s policy of allowing former Diamond Princess passengers to return home after testing negative.”

3. In solitary: With the group back on dry Middle Eastern land, attention is turning to their stay at the hospital.

  • “Joy and fear,” reads the front page headline of Israel Hayom.
  • Kan reports that at Sheba the quarantined will not be together but each in their own cell.
  • Beyond that, the quarantined area is apart from the rest of the hospital, with its own water, sewage and ventilation systems, and even its own medical staff, Haaretz reports.
  • According to Ynet, after entering, the group’s only communication with other humans will be via a computer linkup to the hospital’s operations room, and officials are already using video conferencing to try and cheer up the patients.
  • “I know it was not simple, that you can’t see your families or move around,” Dr. Galia Barkai is quoted saying to them on Ynet. “We understand the situation, and we’ll try to make your time here pleasant.

4. Left behind: As for the four Israelis that remained behind, they appear to be in good condition.

  • Israel Hayom and others identify one man as Shlomo Dahan, one of the 15 cruisers who had been a go-to voice for the media looking for first-person accounts from the ship.
  • “I’m not sick and I don’t have a fever. It’s because of fear that I’m staying here in quarantine… I’ve been in worse situations. Next year I’ll take another cruise,” he tells Army Radio.
  • Speaking to Israel Hayom, he indicates that no little virus is going to take him down. “I was a longshoreman for 12 years and fought in the IDF. I’ve been through stuff in my life and I’m not afraid. This is nothing,” he tells the paper. “I was joking with my family that I would have to stay another two weeks so I could report on Japan for the media outlets. In the end it looks like I’ll be here for a while longer.”
  • Kan reports that all four Israelis are expected to be released early next week, which seems to indicate that they are not even being made to wait the full 14 days in isolation. According to the outlet, the Israelis just need to get back good blood tests for the go-ahead.
  • “From our impression, it seems that they have been sick for a while and already passed the stage where there is a fear of complications,” Health Ministry official Itamar Grotto tells Kan.

5. Rocks vs. germs: While the Hebrew press was obsessing over Israel’s Diamond Princes and Princesses, it totally missed riots in Ukraine over locals angry at being made to host evacuees from Wuhan in a nearby sanatorium. Among the group flown to the Kharkiv area Thursday morning was one Israeli, as well as 44 Ukrainians and a smattering of other nationalities.

  • According to the Associated Press, protesters tried to block buses carrying the passengers and threw rocks at windows, smashing them. One person even rammed his car into a police line.
  • It’s not like the press didn’t know about the Israeli, Tomer Zvulun. Channel 12 news interviewed him right before he got on the plane, as he explained that he had tried to stick around the village where he was learning martial arts, but realized the quarantine wasn’t going to end soon and so asked the embassy to get him out of there.
  • The channel notes that Israeli textile factory owner Ofer Dekel is still sticking around in Wuhan, along with his wife and two kids. It says that the embassy tried to convince him to leave along with Zvulun, but he decided to stay.
  • In a Facebook post, Dekel writes that he spoke to Zvulun about whether or not to leave and was concerned of exactly what is happening in Ukraine.
  • “This is exactly what I was afraid of when deciding whether or not to take the plane to Ukraine. This is a complicated situation. I’m worried for Tomer and the other travelers on the bus[es]. I also understand the locals’ fears. It’s all so complicated and worrisome,” he writes.

6. China’s pain may be Israel’s gain: Haaretz reports that cruise ships are canceling excursions to the Far East and hitting up Haifa and other spots instead.

  • “The Far East is largely being replaced by the Mediterranean. After all, the ships have to sail somewhere,” the paper’s Moshe Gilad writes.
  • Channel 12 reports that fears over the virus have led to a sharp downturn in global travel and “turned into a potential threat for the world economy.”
  • It calls tourism the first victim of the virus: “If current trends continue of flight cancellations, global air activity will be down 8 percent for 2020.”

7. Pleading the fifth: The announcement of a police probe into the failed Fifth Dimension firm has not put former head Benny Gantz in the hot seat, with prosecutor Dan Eldad instead under fire for what is seen as a politically motivated move just a few days before the election.

  • Speaking to Hebrew media anonymously, one official accuses Eldad of being a “Trojan horse” and another says he is a lackey of the ruling Likud party.
  • Ynet cites unnamed judicial officials saying that Eldad, who came into the job two weeks ago thanks to Likud minister Amir Ohana, has spent the time “dealing with the Likud’s demands and especially that of [police minister Gilad] Erdan to investigate Fifth Dimension and Gantz.”
  • The paper quotes former state comptroller spokesperson Shlomo Raz, who was in office when the comptroller first put out a report about police misconduct in the affair, noting that the report specifically did not recommend a police probe into the affair, since it dealt only with the police’s conduct.
  • “That’s why the police were totally surprised to be tasked with the case,” the paper reports.
  • Haaretz reports that prosecution officials had been surprised by Eldad’s decision, its timing mere days before a national election and the swiftness in which it was made: They said he’d only learned the details of the case this past week.
  • Seeing the case from entirely the other side, Israel Hayom claims that if anything the prosecution was dragging its feet in the affair.
  • According to the paper, the public security ministry had asked for info about the case back in April of last year, but officials wanted to clear it over fears of muddying the case and the material was only transferred months later: “It seems Dan Eldad’s appointment by Ohana accelerated the process.”
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