Israel prepares to evacuate nationals from quarantined cruise ship
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Israel prepares to evacuate nationals from quarantined cruise ship

3 Israelis diagnosed with coronavirus to remain in hospital in Japan; returning Israelis will be quarantined at Sheba Medical Center

An Israeli flag can be seen in one of the portholes (left) of Diamond Princess cruise ship, where three Israelis have been diagnosed with coronavirus, at the Daikaku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama port on February 16, 2020 (Behrouz MEHRI / AFP)
An Israeli flag can be seen in one of the portholes (left) of Diamond Princess cruise ship, where three Israelis have been diagnosed with coronavirus, at the Daikaku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama port on February 16, 2020 (Behrouz MEHRI / AFP)

Israel is preparing to evacuate its citizens from the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess, the Health Ministry said Monday.

“We are working in coordination with the Japanese authorities, the Foreign Ministry and emergency bodies in order to bring the [Israeli] passengers on the ship back home safely,” said Health Minister Yaakov Litzman.

According to a statement from the ministry, a plane has already been chartered by several private insurance companies to bring the Israeli nationals back home.

Health Ministry Deputy Director General Itamar Grotto and Israel’s Ambassador to Japan Yaffa Ben-Ari met in Tokyo on Monday with Japanese health officials in order to discuss the evacuation of Israeli nationals from the ship.

The ministry said that Litzman had instructed the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer to prepare to take the Israelis into quarantine upon their arrival in the country. They will be kept in a separate unit and monitored by medical staff assigned solely for that purpose, the ministry added.

Prof. Elhanan Bar-On, director of the Israel Center for Disaster Medicine at Sheba, said: “Our expertise is in leading and handling national emergency tasks and that is what we shall do in this instance as well — professionally and responsibly.”

Three Israeli nationals on board the ship docked in the port of Yokohama near Tokyo were confirmed Sunday to have been diagnosed with coronavirus. The three were hospitalized in Japan and are said to be suffering from mild symptoms of the disease, which has killed 1,776 people, most of them in mainland China, since it was first reported on December 31 last year.

In total, 15 Israeli nationals were on the cruise, but Prof. Grotto told the Ynet news website that the three hospitalized Israelis would have to stay in Japan until they tested negative for the virus.

Japanese officials, meanwhile, confirmed Monday that 99 more people have been infected by the new virus aboard the Diamond Princess, bringing the total to 454.

Two chartered planes flew 340 Americans who were aboard the vessel out of Japan late Sunday. About 380 Americans had been on the ship. The US State Department announced later that 14 of the evacuees were confirmed to have the virus in tests given before they boarded the planes.

They were taken to the US because they did not have symptoms and were being isolated from other passengers on the planes, it said.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the 14 were included in the 99 new cases announced by Japan on Monday.

Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and Italy are also planning similar flights for their citizens.

The Health Ministry on Sunday said Israelis returning from four destinations in East Asia will now be required to self-quarantine for two weeks amid concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Travelers to Thailand, Singapore and the semi-autonomous Chinese cities of Hong Kong and Macau must remain in isolation, the ministry said. Previously, only travelers coming from China were subject to such a self-quarantine.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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