Israelis were confirmed to have caught coronavirus for the first time on Sunday, as the Health Ministry reported that two Israeli passengers on a cruise ship off Japan’s coast had tested positive.
The ministry had initially said there were three Israeli passengers infected with the virus but later downgraded the figure, adding that the two infected passengers were a couple.
The Health Ministry said in a statement that it had learned from Japanese authorities that the Israelis were showing only mild symptoms.
The ministry said that several other Israeli passengers were being tested for the virus.
The Foreign Ministry said two of the Israeli passengers had been taken off the ship to receive treatment and confirmed that those two had tested positive for the virus.
Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said Israel was sending a doctor to help treat the Israelis.
While entering the weekly cabinet meeting, Litzman added: “We are negotiating with the Japanese regarding the return home of all the other [Israelis]. Our working premise has been that corona will arrive and we have made all the preparations.”
Earlier Sunday, Japan’s health minister said the number of people who have tested positive for the coronavirus on the quarantined ship off Japan’s coast had risen to 355.
“So far, we have conducted tests for 1,219 individuals. Of those, 355 people tested positive. Of those, 73 individuals are not showing symptoms,” Katsunobu Kato told a roundtable discussion on public broadcaster NHK. The number was a rise of 70 from the last government toll.
Following the development, panic and resentment were spreading among the remaining Israelis aboard the ship.
One of them, Shalva Dahan, called on Israel to urgently take them off and criticized authorities for allegedly keeping them in the dark.
“Take us from here, throw us in some hangar in Israel,” she told the Walla news site. “I don’t care if I’m there for a month, but why leave us here, why not update us with what’s happening? Why do we have to get updates from the news? I saw what was going on on the deck — many ambulances, army, police. I said, enough, I’m going to my room, I don’t want to see this anymore.”
“I’m nervous, I don’t know what’s happening,” said Lena Samuelov to public broadcaster Kan. “Everyone I know on the ship is not infected.”
Nicole Ben David told the Ynet site: “We didn’t get any notification from the ship’s crew, doctors or the embassy. That only clarifies our point that this quarantine could be wrong and that we should have left. We were naive, we listened to the Japanese authorities. We are in danger at the moment if people are still being infected.”
The new infection figures came as the United States was preparing to evacuate some of its citizens from the Diamond Princess, which has been in quarantine since February 5 in the port of Yokohama, near Tokyo.
Hong Kong also said it would offer its 330 citizens on board the chance to take a charter flight back.
“Based on the high number of COVID-19 cases identified onboard the Diamond Princess, the Department of Health and Human Services made an assessment that passengers and crew members onboard are at high risk of exposure,” the US embassy said in a letter to its passengers.
Israel has unsuccessfully attempted to negotiate the release of the Israelis on board the ship.
“The message from the Americans reinforces our feelings along with those of our relatives on the ship, that the quarantine on the boat is irrelevant, ineffective and dangerous,” Yoni Levy, whose mother and sister are aboard the Diamond Princess, told the Ynet news site on Saturday. “We hope that the Americans’ action will promote the release of Israelis to isolation in Israel.”
According to the news outlet, the Israeli embassy in Tokyo had updated the 15 Israeli passengers on board the cruise ship that Japanese authorities aim to evacuate all passengers from the ship by late Thursday.
The overall death toll from China’s coronavirus epidemic jumped to 1,665 on Sunday after 142 more people died, although the number of new cases dropped for a third consecutive day.
AFP contributed to this report.