Two Israeli passengers who disembarked from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan after two weeks of quarantine due to the novel coronavirus said Wednesday they were happy and feeling well, but concerned for other passengers still aboard, who will disembark on Thursday.
Hundreds of passengers began leaving the Diamond Princess cruise ship after the end of the much-criticized quarantine that failed to stop the spread of the new coronavirus among passengers and crew.
The first Israelis to disembark were Edna and Henry Ben Shabbat, who were quoted by Hebrew-language media as saying: “We are happy to get off the ship, but at the same time we will remain concerned until all the Israelis are off.
“We are feeling well,” they added. “During our release we underwent many examinations before we boarded the bus.”
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 besides the Ben Shabbats, the ten remaining non-infected Israelis would only leave the ship on Thursday, and that all would disembark by 6 p.m. (Japan time). They are set to 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.
Japanese officials will spend several days staging the high-stakes evacuation of about 2,500 people who’ve been kept aboard the ship at the Yokohama port near Tokyo after one passenger who departed the ship earlier in Hong Kong was found to have the virus.
On Tuesday Israel’s consul to Japan Revital Ben Naim and Israeli infectious disease expert Ran Nir-Paz visited the two military hospitals where the infected Israelis are being treated as they are kept in isolation — a couple at one location and a man at another — and spoke with them by phone, the ministry said in a statement.
Nir-Paz reported that the Israelis are “evidently in mild condition” and are receiving good treatment by Japanese medical teams.
The Health Ministry sent Nir-Paz, of the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, to Japan to check up on the infected Israelis.
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 at the time.
Health Minister Yaakov Litzman 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.
About 500 passengers are expected to return home Wednesday. Crew members, who couldn’t be confined to their rooms over the last two weeks because they were working, are expected to stay on the ship.
The ship’s operator, Princess Cruises, said in a statement Tuesday that 169 people who tested positive recently were still on the ship as they waited for transportation to hospitals.
The safety and transport logistics for moving hundreds of people will test Japanese officials. The United States evacuated more than 300 people over the weekend who are now in quarantine in the US for another 14 days. South Korea earlier Wednesday returned seven people from the cruise ship, placing the six South Koreans and one Japanese family member into quarantine.
Other foreign passengers were to be picked up by chartered flights sent from Canada, Australia, Italy and Hong Kong.