Foreign Ministry asks Japan to release Israelis from coronavirus cruise

The Japanese Health Ministry is set to release the 15 Israelis from quarantine next week. However, they will likely be put in isolation when they enter Israel.

Cruise ship Diamond Princess is seen anchored off the Yokohama Port, after ten people on the cruise liner have tested positive for coronavirus in Yokohama (photo credit: REUTERS)
Cruise ship Diamond Princess is seen anchored off the Yokohama Port, after ten people on the cruise liner have tested positive for coronavirus in Yokohama
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Foreign Ministry officially asked Japan on Wednesday to release the 15 Israelis quarantined aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which is carrying passengers infected with the novel coronavirus, now labeled SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses.
“I will make every effort to bring home the Israelis who are on the coronavirus ship, while making sure to take the necessary steps to protect the public,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz said.
Katz instructed his ministry to pass on the message to Tokyo that Israelis on the ship, which is anchored off Yokohama, should be offered a different quarantine option. He plans to hold further consultations with relevant parties on Thursday.
The Foreign Ministry has been in contact with Japanese authorities on a daily basis regarding the confined Israeli citizens. The Israel Embassy in Tokyo has been helping them get regular supplies of medicine and kosher food.
In addition, the ministry is examining how to help the 15 passengers return to Israel when their two-week quarantine period ends, including getting them letters from the Japanese authorities certifying that they no longer need to be in isolation, so they can get on return flights.
A senior Health Ministry official said that the Japanese Health Ministry told its Israeli counterpart that it will release the Israelis from quarantine by next week, according to Channel 12 News. However, the official added that the Israelis will most likely have to enter isolation upon arrival in Israel.
Also Wednesday, Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman and Health Ministry director-general Moshe Bar Siman Tov spoke with the Israelis aboard the ship.
Another 39 people have tested positive for the coronavirus on the cruise ship, bringing the total to 175, the Japanese Health Ministry said on Wednesday, according to Reuters. Outside of China, this is the largest outbreak of the disease, called COVID-19 by the World Health Organization.
Litzman told KAN that he hopes the Israelis on board aren’t infected by the viral epidemic. However, if they are, the ministry is preparing to provide treatment for them in Israel.
On Tuesday, the Health Ministry began working on new guidelines for the treatment of the virus, should it arrive in Israel. These treatment guidelines will be based on the experiences other countries have had fighting the virus and will include drugs used in the treatment of the flu and HIV/AIDS.
The ministry has also ordered a shipment of eight million protective masks, in case of a shortage, and has already spent over NIS 19 million preparing for the virus, according to KAN.
In addition, the ministry has already begun clearing ground in cities such as Rishon Lezion to prepare specialized hospitals for the treatment of any COVID-19 cases. However, this decision sparked backlash from Rishon Lezion’s municipality and residents, who have said “we will not become Israel’s coronavirus city.”
The first coronavirus cases surfaced in December in the city of Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province. It has since spread to 45 countries in Asia, Europe, North America and Australia, infected at least 45,210 people and killed 1,118 as of Tuesday. The vast majority of those afflicted are in Wuhan, China’s ninth-most populous city, with 11 million residents.
Reuters contributed to this report.