Israelis quarantined on the cruise ship Diamond Princess due to the spread of the coronavirus will arrive back in Israel on Thursday after Japanese authorities agreed for them to be taken straight to a plane that will fly them home.
The passengers will be tested to make sure they are not infected with the deadly virus and those who are cleared will be allowed off the ship, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday.
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 development came as the Japanese health ministry said an additional 88 people have tested positive for coronavirus on the ship.
The new cases came from a total of 681 fresh results, the ministry said, taking the total number of positive cases on the Diamond Princess to 542.
There was no immediate word on whether there were any Israelis among the 88.
So far, three Israeli nationals on board the ship docked in the port of Yokohama near Tokyo have been diagnosed with coronavirus. They 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.
There are another 12 Israelis on the ship who so far are not known to have contracted the disease.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The new disease, called COVID-19, first emerged in December in Wuhan, the capital of central China’s Hubei province, and has spread to more than two dozen other countries.
Mainland China reported 1,886 new virus cases and 98 more deaths for a total of 1,868 in its update Tuesday, following a report that 80% of cases have been mild, prompting guarded optimism from health officials.
A total of 72,436 cases have been reported in mainland China, although a spike in recent cases was due to a broader definition in the hardest-hit region based on doctors’ diagnoses before laboratory tests were completed.