Israel readies for return of 11 ‘coronavirus cruise’ travelers

The Israeli embassy in China helped Tomer Zevulun obtain the necessary permits for him to leave the region and return to Israel via Ukraine.

MDA prepares ambulances
The country is preparing for the pre-dawn Friday arrival of 11 Israelis who have been quarantined on board the coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship off the coast of Japan since February 3.
The 11 include two who disembarked from the ship Wednesday after a final examination and nine who are expected to be released Thursday before making their way back to Ben-Gurion Airport.
“It’s like the exodus from Egypt,” one Israeli said in a self-recorded video that was later disseminated to the press.
MDA EMT explains MDA procedures
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, National Security Council head Meir Ben-Shabbat and a handful of other high-ranking leaders toured the unique isolation facility that has been established at Chaim Sheba Medical Center, Tel HaShomer.
The Israelis, whose evacuation from Yokohama was arranged through major efforts by the Health Ministry and the Foreign Ministry, will be taken directly from the airport to the hospital in Magen David Adom ambulances. They will remain under quarantine there for an additional 14 days.
The Health Ministry, Sheba, MDA and the Airport Authority sent a message to the media Wednesday evening explaining that the 14-seat private jet would land in the private jet terminal and that only a limited number of airport staff would attend to the aircraft. The statement said that the plane would return to Asia immediately after refueling.
The Sheba facility meets strict criteria for isolation that ensure maximum protection of the health of those in the facility, the medical teams and the Israeli public. Remote treatment will be provided to those in isolation using advanced technologies, including the hospital’s unique telemedicine program.
“I just toured the special isolation facility; it is very impressive,” Netanyahu said Wednesday morning. “It uses innovative technologies and methods in order to achieve maximum isolation. Of course, we hope that none of the Israelis who have been rescued from the infected ship are infected.”
The prime minister said that the country’s policy has been to prevent or postpone – as much as possible – the entry of the virus into Israel.
“There are claims regarding over-preparation; I prefer – and am directing – over-preparation as opposed to under-preparation,” he said.
Netanyahu was referring to the decision announced earlier this week that all people returning to Israel from China, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are to quarantine themselves at home for 14 days, and that the country will prohibit anyone without citizenship from entering the country who recently visited or traveled through various Southeast Asian destinations.
“We have said that we must be strict in order to prevent the virus from entering,” said Litzman. “With God’s help, we have succeeded up until now. We are facing a new phase; we are currently entering a new stage. We are bringing people back from there. We are prepared.
“We reexamine ourselves every day and are strict where we need to be,” he concluded.
The prime minister held a strategic meeting at Sheba, as well, which centered on three topics: presenting the situation, trends and risk-assessments; a status report on the implementation of the prime minister’s previous directives; and updating the policy and commenting on its implications, to the extent necessary.
Netanyahu earlier this month set three policy objectives for Israel when it comes to the coronavirus. These were postponing the arrival of the virus to Israel for as long as possible, keeping it from spreading if it would arrive, and developing a vaccine against the virus.
Since the threat of the coronavirus became known to Israel, the National Security Council has been holding daily assessments with appropriate partners. Netanyahu called for those meetings to continue and for another discussion to be held next week.
In addition, he asked that Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon examine compensation for the businesses that have been hurt, such as airlines.
“We, as a nation, must deal with those who have been hurt in this matter,” the prime minister said.
Ahead of the Israeli’s arrival, MDA has been preparing, as well. The emergency service will be responsible for transferring the Israelis from the airport to the hospital. In accordance with the protocol for suspected infectious diseases, paramedics will be wearing protective clothing to prevent themselves from being infected, MDA said in a statement.
“We have reviewed how to protect ourselves and those surrounding us using protective masks, body suits and gear according to protocol,” MDA EMT Miriam Serkez said in a video statement.
On Wednesday, Japanese health authorities announced that another 79 of the 3,711 passengers and crew on board the Diamond Princess ship had been identified as carriers of the virus, raising the number of people infected to 621, the largest concentration of confirmed cases in the world outside of mainland China.
Four of those infected are Israeli – a couple, a single woman and another man – and they are currently being treated in military hospitals in Japan, where they will remain while the other Israelis return home.
Also on Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry announced that the Israeli Embassy in China helped to rescue Tomer Zevulun, an Israeli who had been taking part in a kung fu workshop in a remote village in the province of Hubei, where the coronavirus originated and has rapidly spread. The virus surfaced in December in the province’s capital of Wuhan.
The embassy helped him obtain the necessary permits to leave the region and return to Israel via Ukraine. The Israeli ambassador to Ukraine, Joel Lion, handled the necessary approvals for Zevulun with the Ukrainian authorities.
Zevulun will remain in isolation for 14 days in Ukraine before returning to Israel.