Israeli health official: Only epidemic at the moment is coronavirus panic

Rotstein stated that there is little to no chance of the coronavirus becoming an epidemic in the country because, "our system is sharp, and viral diagnoses are made fast."

Buses believed to carry the U.S. passengers of the cruise ship Diamond Princess, where dozens of passengers were tested positive for coronavirus, leave at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of Tokyo (photo credit: REUTERS)
Buses believed to carry the U.S. passengers of the cruise ship Diamond Princess, where dozens of passengers were tested positive for coronavirus, leave at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of Tokyo
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Prof. Ze'ev Rotstein, general director of the Hadassah Medical Organization, and Health Ministry director-general Professor Itamar Grotto spoke with KAN News on Monday about the dangers of the novel coronavirus as it relates to the Israeli public.
Rotstein stated that there is little to no chance of the coronavirus becoming an epidemic in the country – and that the only epidemic at the moment is panic.
"Maybe one or two patients, even ten, will arrive. But our system is sharp, and viral diagnoses are made fast [here] – so there is no chance of [this virus] reaching an epidemic level," Rotstein explained, adding that the country shouldn't go into "corona-panic," which has caused medical resource suppliers to raise the prices of essential equipment leading to shortages worldwide.
According to reports, three out of the fifteen Israelis aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship anchored off the coast of Japan have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
The ship, owned by Carnival Corp, has been quarantined since arriving to Yokohama, south of Tokyo, on February 3, after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong before it traveled to Japan was diagnosed with the virus.
Some 3,700 passengers and crew were aboard the ship, where the most coronavirus infections outside of mainland China have occurred. Those testing positive are being transferred to Japanese hospitals to keep the virus isolated.
Grotto left for Japan Saturday night to work on bringing home the Israelis stuck aboard the cruise ship. Blood samples gathered from the Israeli passengers before their pending departure indicated that three had contracted the virus.
He explained to KAN that he has not been able to meet with the Israelis or the medical teams supervising the quarantine, due to exposure threats and language barriers with his Japanese counterparts.
What he does know is that the Japanese medical staff will not be releasing any contagious passengers into the custody of their home countries under any circumstances.
"The moment that they are no longer contagious, then they will be able to be released," Grotto said to KAN. "It's possible that it could take a long time, it's possible that it could take less, I don't know all the details.
"They'll start all of those checks tomorrow," he said. "Anyone who tests negative [for the virus] can leave the ship, and then it'll be my job to make sure they arrive safely [back home in Israel]."
Grotto says that the Israelis quarantined aboard the cruise ship are due back in the country on Wednesday. He told KAN that the  passengers do not pose any threat to anyone onboard the flight home or the public once they arrive in Israel, adding that a quarantine will not be necessary for anyone returning from Japan, including himself.
Tel Hashomer Hospital in Ramat Gan is currently preparing an isolation compound for the returning Israelis. Medical officials have claimed that moving these passengers into a facility where there are patients with weakened immune systems could end up being a risky move, adding that they do not believe that Israeli emergency rooms are well enough equipped to handle these cases effectively if an emergency situation would arise – such as panic, or an outbreak.
A vote in the Knesset on forming a committee of MKs to deal with the coronavirus that was set for Monday was postponed until after the March 2 election.
Blue and White MK Zvi Hauser, who initiated the effort to form the committee, said it was unfortunate that a consensus could not be found to deal with such a truly urgent issue. 

The first coronavirus case surfaced in December in the city of Wuhan, in China’s Hubei province. Currently, 70,548 cases have been confirmed along with 1,770 deaths, though only three deaths have occurred outside of mainland China.
Celia Jean, Gil Hoffman and Reuters contributed to this report.


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