Israel confirms second coronavirus case among former cruise passengers

Patient isolated at Sheba Medical Center; ministry says he contracted virus while abroad

Israelis who were aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off Japan are seen on a plane bringing them to Israel, February 20, 2020. (Israeli Embassy in Japan)
Israelis who were aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off Japan are seen on a plane bringing them to Israel, February 20, 2020. (Israeli Embassy in Japan)

A second Israeli has been diagnosed with the coronavirus after returning to the country from Japan, where he spent two weeks quarantined on a cruise ship where the disease had rapidly spread, the Health Ministry said Sunday.

“The patient is in isolation and under observation,” the ministry said in a statement.

The Health Ministry stressed that the patient, who is being treated at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, did not contract the virus in Israel.

The first case in Israel was announced on Friday.

The two were among 11 Israelis allowed off the Diamond Princess ship in Yokohama, Japan and flown home after initially testing negative. All were placed in isolation for a 14 day period at the Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv.

Fifteen Israelis were among some 3,700 who were kept on the ship for two weeks off the coast of Japan after a passenger, who had already disembarked in Hong Kong, was found to be infected.

Four Israelis contracted the disease while on the ship and are being treated in special medical centers in Japan. They are all said to be in a good condition. The remaining 11 arrived back in Israel on Friday morning.

Later that day, one of the passengers was diagnosed with the disease, making that person the first case to be reported inside Israel.

Workers inside a building at Sheba Medical Center which was converted to receive the Israelis who were under quarantine on the cruise ship Diamond Princess in Japan due to the spread of the coronavirus, and arriving in Israel tonight, February 20, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Japan’s health ministry on Sunday said a third person from a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship quarantined has died. Japan has been criticized in the face of mounting evidence that the quarantine imposed on the Diamond Princess did little to stop the virus spreading.

The second confirmed infection came as Israel has scrambled to take containment measures after over the weekend South Korea reported that a number of its nationals who recently traveled to the Jewish state had tested positive for the disease.

A South Korean airliner that landed at Ben Gurion Airport Saturday evening was sent back to Seoul with its passengers, after the 12 Israelis on board were evacuated and quarantined. South Korea registered a strong protest with the Israeli government over the incident.

Earlier, South Korea informed Israel that 18 members of a group who toured Israel and the West Bank for a week this month tested positive for the new virus. The tourists were diagnosed upon returning home.

As a result, Israeli and Palestinian health authorities Saturday asked people who had recently been in close contact with the group of tourists to quarantine themselves.

Some 200 Israeli students and teachers were instructed to enter isolation due to being in several tourist sites at the same time as the group.

South Korea has seen a rapid surge in the number of coronavirus cases in recent days after a cluster of infections emerged from a religious sect in the southern city of Daegu last week.

The national toll of 556 cases is now the highest outside China, apart from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

Medical staff at Sheba Medical Center monitor Israelis who were quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship off Japan due to the spread of the coronavirus, February 21, 2020. (Flash90)

Starting Monday, Israel will ban all foreign nationals who have been to South Korea and Japan in the past 14 days from entering the country, the Health Ministry said Sunday.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri was set to sign an order to that effect later in the day.

Israel is already denying entry to visitors from China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, and Singapore, and is apparently the only country to have taken such drastic steps so far to contain the virus.

The Foreign Ministry on Monday also extended a travel advisory for Israelis to South Korea and Japan.

The coronavirus, known officially as COVID-19, began in China in December. Since then it has killed over 2,400 people in that country and tens of thousands have become infected.

Agencies contributed this report.

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