The Health Ministry officials believe it is only a matter of time before the coronavirus reaches Israel, and have drawn up a plan with the aim of treating patients and preventing the spread of the infection, Channel 12 news reported Wednesday.
In the initial phase of a possible Israeli outbreak, dedicated units will be set up within established hospitals in an attempt to isolate carriers of the disease. They are to be staffed by experts in the field of disease control.
According to the report, an isolation unit will immediately be set up at the Shmu’el Harofe Hospital in Beer Yaakov, in addition to one at a geriatric unit in Rishon Lezion.
However, if the number of infections increases to an amount not stated by the report, a hospital in Jerusalem and one in Tel Aviv could be commandeered exclusively for the treatment of patients with coronavirus.
In addition, the Health Ministry could impose restrictions on large gatherings and the closure of hotels and tourist sites will be considered, according to the report.
Health Minister Yaakov Litzman has instructed the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer to prepare to take the Israelis evacuated from a cruise ship off the coast of Japan 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.
Israel now has some of the strictest entry restrictions in place after 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 virus. 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.
On Monday Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, on the advice of the Health Ministry, ordered that non-Israeli nationals from Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Macau will not be granted entry to Israel, as a further precaution.
Foreign Ministry officials have raised concerns that Israel’s drastic measures — not taken by any other country — could impact diplomatic relations with some East Asian countries.
Hundreds of passengers, including Israelis, began leaving the Diamond Princess cruise ship on Wednesday after the end of the much-criticized quarantine that failed to stop the spread of the new coronavirus among passengers and crew.
Some of the non-Israeli passengers said on Twitter after the evacuation started that they received health check forms asking if they had symptoms such as a headache, fever or coughing. Passengers who tested negative and had no symptoms of the COVID-19 disease still had to get their body temperature checked before leaving.
The ship, which some experts have called a perfect virus incubator, has become the site of the most infections outside of China, where the virus was first identified. 621 cases have been identified among the original 3,711 people on the ship, including 79 new infection reported Wednesday.
At least three Israelis were among those on board who were infected. There were another 12 Israelis on the ship who so far are not known to have contracted the disease.
However, Israeli media said Wednesday that all Israeli passengers would disembark by Thursday and will depart for Israel three hours later after Japanese authorities agreed for them to be taken straight to a plane that will fly them home.
They will first be tested to make sure they are not infected with the deadly virus, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday.
The passengers will receive a special permit enabling them to travel directly to the jet, which was chartered by several private insurance companies to bring the Israelis back to the country.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service said in a statement Wednesday that it was prepared to receive the patients, with teams of paramedics wearing protective gear set to transport them in ambulances that will then be disinfected.
The three Israelis who caught the virus were hospitalized in Japan and are said to be suffering from mild symptoms of the disease. They will return home separately.
Officials still were continuing tests on the ship for the virus that has infected over 75,000 people globally, killing over 2,000, with the vast majority of cases in mainland China.