Israeli woman who caught coronavirus on Japan cruise recovers, leaves hospital

Rachel Biton will fly back to Israel from Japan tomorrow and will be tested again before she is released, reports say

Rachel Biton is released from a Japanese medical facility after testing negative for coronavirus, February 25, 2020 (Screen grab/Channel 12 news)
Rachel Biton is released from a Japanese medical facility after testing negative for coronavirus, February 25, 2020 (Screen grab/Channel 12 news)

An Israeli woman who contracted coronavirus on a quarantined cruise ship has made a full recovery and has been released from a medical facility in Japan, family members said Tuesday.

According to Hebrew media reports, the woman, Rachel Biton, is to fly back to Israel on Wednesday. It was unclear whether she would be permitted to board a commercial plane.

Biton has reportedly twice tested negative for the virus and will be tested again upon arrival in Israel before she is released home.

According to the Ynet news site, she will not be forced to remain isolated if she again tests negative.

In video circulating on social media, Biton was seen wearing a mask and dragging a suitcase as she appeared to be released from the medical facility.

A relative of the woman remains hospitalized in Japan but family members said they hope he will also be released soon.

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, including Biton, contracted the disease while on the ship and were 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.

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)

On Sunday, the Health Ministry announced that a second Israeli was diagnosed with the coronavirus after returning to the country from Japan, having spent two weeks quarantined on the cruise ship where the disease had rapidly spread. 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.

Israel has implemented strict entry rules for visitors from a number of countries and bans on foreign nationals who have recently visited others.

The Health Ministry on Monday issued a travel advisory for Italy, due to a surge of coronavirus cases there.

Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman-Tov said that a quarantine order for travelers returning from Italy might be ineffective, because anyone who wished to avoid the quarantine could “take a train to a neighboring country, and fly to Israel from there.”

Italy on Tuesday reported a large jump in cases, from 222 to 283. Seven people have died, all of them elderly and suffering other pathologies. Over 50,000 people, in about a dozen northern Italian towns, have been told to stay home. Police set up checkpoints to enforce the blockade.

Police stop cars at the border of an area under quarantine due to a coronavirus outbreak in Casalpusterlengo, Northern Italy, February 23, 2020. (Claudio Furlan/LaPresse via AP)

A tourist hotel in the Canary Islands was placed in quarantine Tuesday after an Italian doctor staying there tested positive for the virus, evidence that the outbreak in Europe is spreading with vacationing Italians.

The Health Ministry said Sunday that any Israelis returning from Italy, Australia and Taiwan who develop symptoms of illness must be examined according to procedures detailed on its website.

The Foreign Ministry on Sunday urged Israelis not to visit Japan and South Korea over fears of exposure to the virus. The travel advisory also recommended that Israelis currently in South Korea consider leaving the country.

Meanwhile, South Korean visitors have been leaving Israel en masse after the number of cases mounted in the East Asian country and a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered that all South Koreans in Israel be quickly flown out. The Israel Airport Authority said in a statement Monday that 622 Korean nationals had left the country since Sunday night, and that 800 to 900 still remained in the country.

Korean tourists await a flight home from Ben-Gurion International airport amid fears that they carry the coronavirus, February 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Starting Monday, Israel banned all foreign nationals who have been to South Korea and Japan in the past 14 days from entering the country. Israel was 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.

On Saturday, the Health Ministry said a group of South Korean tourists recently in Israel had tested positive for the coronavirus, sending hundreds of Israelis who were in proximity to the travelers into home quarantine.

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. The Health Ministry published the itinerary of the group’s trip through Israel and the West Bank. The South Korean tourists were diagnosed upon returning home.

In Iran on Tuesday the confirmed death toll rose to 15, with the outbreak prompting travel bans from nearby countries.

People wear masks to help guard against the Coronavirus on a street in downtown Tehran, Iran, February 23, 2020. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

Bahrain and Kuwait announced on Monday their first cases of the virus, health ministries in the two Gulf states announced, adding that all had come from Iran. Kuwait reported three infections and Bahrain one.

Israel’s neighbor Jordan has announced that it was denying entry of non-Jordanians coming from Iran and South Korea, on top of a previous ban on those coming from China. Nationals arriving from those countries will be quarantined.

The coronavirus, known officially as COVID-19, began in China in December.

The number of fatalities in China has continued to soar, with 2,663 deaths among 77,658 cases as of  Tuesday.

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