Two of the 15 Israelis on board a quarantined cruise liner docked in Japan have the coronavirus, the Health Ministry confirmed Sunday.
The two are said to have minor symptoms of the virus and have been taken to hospital on the Japanese mainland. Israel is expected to send a specialist doctor to Japan to attend them.
The ministry initially said three Israelis had been infected, but that was later corrected to two.
The liner was quarantined on arrival in Yokohama, near Tokyo, on Feb. 3 after a man who disembarked from the liner in Hong Kong before it travelled to Japan was diagnosed with the virus that has now killed more than 1,350 in mainland China.
Israel is still looking into the possibility of repatriating the remaining Israelis aboard who have not displayed symptoms of the virus. The passengers will be quarantined and observed back home if Foreign Minister Israel Katz manages to persuade the Japanese authorities to release them.
Deputy Director-General of the Health Ministry, Prof. Itamar Grotto is already in South Korea and will arrive in Tokyo in the coming hours.
Israeli passenger Nicole Ben-David told Ynet on Sunday that she was alarmed by the new of the three Israeli diagnoses.
"My whole family is healthy but we have not received any message from the ship's crew, doctors or the [Israeli] embassy," she said.
"It just gives weight to the argument that in some situations quarantine is wrong and we should left here and been placed in quarantine in Israel. If people have been infected in the last few days it means they should have been evacuated beforehand."
With the number of those infected on the cruise ship now up to at least 350, concerns have been raised about conditions on the ship, where about 3,500 people remain on board.
About 80% of the ship passengers are aged 60 or over, with 215 in their 80s and 11 in their 90s, according to Japanese media.
The ship typically has a crew of 1,100 and a passenger capacity of 2,670.
In a special briefing held at the Foreign Ministry on Thursday, Katz vowed to do “his utmost” to bring Israeli nationals aboard the ship back home. “We’ll be taking all the necessary precautions to prevent the virus from entering Israel.”
Katz's comments came after Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said the Diamond Princess passengers over the age of 80 who tested negative for the COVID-19 virus and who have pre-existing conditions or are in windowless rooms, would be allowed to leave starting from Friday, rather than the originally targeted date of February 19 and complete their quarantine ashore.
Health Minister Yaakov Litzman told the briefing that ministry representatives would be traveling to Japan soon to assist the Israelis on the virus-hit ship.
"The goal is to provide assistance to Israelis on the ship and to examine the possibility of bringing them back to Israel safely, not only for them but for the Israeli environment as well," the Health Ministry said in a statement.
"We will follow the World Health Organization's instructions in taking care of the passengers in order to prevent the virus from being spread upon arrival.”
The British-flagged Diamond Princess is managed by Princess Cruise Lines, one of the world's largest cruise lines and a unit of Carnival Corp.
The spread of the virus has raised concerns about possible impact on the Summer Olympics to be held in Tokyo from July 24.
Tokyo 2020 Olympics President Yoshiro Mori repeated on Thursday that the Games would go ahead as planned.
"I would like to clearly reiterate that cancellation or postponement of the Tokyo Games are not being considered," he said at the start of a meeting with International Olympic Committee Coordination Commission Chief John Coates.
Hundreds of infections have been reported in more than two dozen countries and territories besides China, but only two people have died from the virus outside mainland China - one in Hong Kong and another in the Philippines.
Japanese nationals who've been staying in hotels or other facilities since returning on four charter flights from China's Wuhan, the epicentre of the epidemic, have begun going home.
All 197 people from a Jan. 29 flight who tested negative were either home or enroute and another 200 or so from a second flight could head home later on Thursday, public broadcaster NHK said.
First published: 10:29 , 02.16.20