Foreign Ministry asks Japan to let Israelis off quarantined cruise ship
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Foreign Ministry asks Japan to let Israelis off quarantined cruise ship

Appeal comes as 39 more passengers test positive for coronavirus, bringing total to 174; Israeli woman on board says conditions ‘unbearable’

An official walks near the cruise ship Diamond Princess anchored off the Yokohama Port in Yokohama, near Tokyo, February 10, 2020. (AP/Eugene Hoshiko)
An official walks near the cruise ship Diamond Princess anchored off the Yokohama Port in Yokohama, near Tokyo, February 10, 2020. (AP/Eugene Hoshiko)

The Foreign Ministry on Wednesday asked Japanese authorities to let a number of Israelis on a cruise ship quarantined off Japan’s coast because of the coronavirus off the vessel.

The ministry said it asked Japan to weigh “other quarantine possibilities,” according to a statement.

“The Israeli embassy in Japan is taking care to ensure that the Israeli citizens are receiving… regular supply of medicine and kosher food,” the ministry said.

The Foreign Ministry is also working to obtain a letter from Japanese authorities allowing the Israelis on board to fly back to Israel when the quarantine period ends. It is believed there are 15 Israelis on the ship.

“We’ll make every effort to bring the Israelis on the corona[virus] ship back to Israel, while strictly following the required conditions to protect the public,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz said.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman held video chats on Wednesday with the Israelis on the ship and gave them a phone number for his assistant at the health ministry, Walla news reported.

Health Minister Yaakov Litzman visits at the Central Laboratory of the Health ministry at the Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, February 4, 2020. (Flash90)

“Our families made a big protest, all the children and grandchildren came together, contacted the health and foreign ministries. We want to get out of here,” said Shalva Dahan, who is on the ship with her husband.

“The most important thing for us is to get to Israel without any roadblocks on the way. There aren’t any direct flights from here to Israel, there are connections. The moment we get to Russia they will want to put us in isolation too,” Dahan told Walla.

“We’re slowly losing hope. We’re hoping we don’t fall into despair,” Dahan said. “We’re in our room all day, not going out. We have one hour a day to walk around on the deck and that’s it. It’s unbearable to be stuck 23 hours a day in a small room.”

On Wednesday an additional 39 people on board the ship tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total to 174.

“Out of 53 new test results, 39 people were found positive,” said Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato, adding that a quarantine official had also been infected with the virus.

He added: “At this point, we have confirmed that four people, among those who are hospitalized, are in serious condition, either on a ventilator or in an intensive care unit.”

The Diamond Princess has been in quarantine since arriving off the Japanese coast early last week after the virus was detected in a former passenger who got off the ship last month in Hong Kong.

A small boat navigates near the cruise ship Diamond Princess off the Yokohama Port, February 4, 2020, in Yokohama, near Tokyo. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

When the boat arrived off Japan, authorities initially tested nearly 300 people of the 3,711 aboard for the virus, gradually evacuating dozens who were infected to local medical facilities.

In recent days, testing has expanded to those with new symptoms or who had close contact with other infected passengers or crew.

Those who remain on the ship have been asked to stay inside their cabins and allowed only briefly onto open decks. They have been asked to wear masks and keep a distance from each other when outside, and given thermometers to regularly monitor their temperatures.

The ship is expected to stay in quarantine until February 19 — 14 days after the isolation period began.

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