Third Israeli contracts coronavirus on cruise ship off Japan
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Third Israeli contracts coronavirus on cruise ship off Japan

Health Ministry working to extract remaining Israelis from Diamond Princess; Jerusalem chief rabbi to enter self-quarantine after Singapore visit, as Israel toughens rules

US passenger wave to reporters as they leave the Daikaku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama port, next to the Diamond Princess cruise ship, with people quarantined onboard due to fears of the new COVID-19 coronavirus, at on February 17, 2020. (Behrouz MEHRI / AFP)
US passenger wave to reporters as they leave the Daikaku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama port, next to the Diamond Princess cruise ship, with people quarantined onboard due to fears of the new COVID-19 coronavirus, at on February 17, 2020. (Behrouz MEHRI / AFP)

A third Israeli national on board a quarantined cruise ship off Japan has been diagnosed with the deadly novel coronavirus, the Foreign Ministry confirmed Sunday evening.

The woman, who has not been identified, was removed from the Diamond Princess liner and taken to a Japanese hospital for medical treatment, the ministry added.

Earlier Sunday, two Israeli passengers on the quarantined ship tested positive for the virus, joining over 355 passengers who have been infected. The Health Ministry said in a statement that it had learned from Japanese authorities that the two Israelis, who were also taken off the ship, were showing only mild symptoms.

Another 12 Israeli tourists remain on board the sealed-off vessel, with the end of the quarantine period set for Wednesday.

US passengers board a plane at the Haneda Airport, in Tokyo on February 17, 2020 after disembarking in Yokohama from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where people are quarantined on board due to fears of the new COVID-19 coronavirus. (Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

Following the announcement of the two Israelis’ infection, panic and resentment spread among the other Israelis aboard the ship. One of them, Shalva Dahan, called on Israel to urgently take them off and criticized authorities for allegedly keeping them in the dark.

“Take us from here, throw us in some hangar in Israel,” she told the Walla news site. “I don’t care if I’m there for a month, but why leave us here, why not update us with what’s happening?”

The Health Ministry dispatched its deputy director, Itamar Grotto, to Japan to secure the release of the remaining Israelis and escort them back to the country.

Speaking to Channel 12 on Sunday night, Grotto said the remaining Israeli passengers “are undergoing tests now. Anyone who gets a negative result will be able to leave the boat and it will be my job to ensure they arrive safely… home.”

Speaking at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged the Israelis on board the Diamond Princess who were not diagnosed with the virus would soon be allowed to return home.

“Those who have not been infected will come to Israel and enter into isolation. Those who have been infected are remaining there, in accordance with a Japanese government decision. We have sent a doctor to help them. Of course, we are all praying for their well-being,” said Netanyahu.

The United States started on Sunday evacuating US nationals on the ship via chartered flights home, where they will be quarantined locally. The ship on arrival carried 3,711 passengers and crew, some of whom have yet to be examined. The cases on the ship represent the biggest cluster outside China.

A US passenger thumbs up to reporters while arriving at the Haneda Airport, in Tokyo on February 17, 2020, after disembarking in Yokohama from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where people are quarantined on board due to fears of the new COVID-19 coronavirus. (Kazuhiro NOGI / AFP)

A senior US health official said Sunday that more than 40 Americans had been infected and would not be a part of an evacuation effort. “Forty of them have gotten infected,” Anthony Fauci, a senior official at the National Institutes for Health said on CBS’s Face the Nation show. “They are not going to go anywhere. They’re going to be in hospitals in Japan.”

Jerusalem chief rabbi to be forced into quarantine

In Israel, the Health Ministry announced Sunday that recent travelers to Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Macau would be required to self-quarantine at home for two weeks. The ministry had previously only required the 14-day isolation for recent travelers to China.

The sweeping directive was reportedly criticized by Foreign Ministry officials, who told Hebrew media on Sunday night that other countries did not take such far-reaching steps, while warning of diplomatic fallout.

The new instructions will affect hundreds of Israelis, including Jerusalem Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who is visiting Singapore to oversee the opening of its new Jewish cemetery and is expected to return later this week.

Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem Shlomo Amar speaks during Jerusalem Day celebrations in Jerusalem, June 2, 2019. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

Israel’s national carrier El Al announced on Sunday it was reducing its flights to Bangkok, a popular vacation destination for Israelis, by 50 percent. El Al said in January it was pausing flights to China for a two-month period due to the outbreak of the virus.

Israel in late January banned foreign nationals recently in China from entering Israel by land or sea, as the death toll from the deadly new coronavirus shot up. At the time, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said the ban would remain in effect until further notice and that Israelis who visited China will need to be quarantined at home for two weeks.

More than 1,600 people have died from the novel coronavirus in China since it was first detected in the central city of Wuhan, and five others have died outside China.

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