As the number of cases on board the coronavirus-hit ship off the Japanese coast continues to soar, the issue of releasing the passengers who have not yet been diagnosed with the disease is stirring controversy around the world.
So far, 355 passengers out of 3,711 aboard the Diamond Princess cruise liner have been diagnosed with the virus, including three Israelis (out of 15 on board).
Three countries have already announced their intentions to bring back their nationals on board the liner.
As of Sunday, the death toll of the coronavirus stands at 1,665, and at least 69,270 of people are reported to have been infected with the pathogen globally, despite efforts to quarantine the disease and mitigate its spread.
"Even with precautions such as protective suits, the release of the passengers from the ship will probably result in others being infected," said Dr. Shimon Edelstein, director of the infectious diseases unit at Ziv Medical Center in Safed.
"It is enough for one of the passengers flying back home to go to the plane's bathroom, to infect everyone who would use the bathroom afterwards. We still don't know enough about the coronavirus, but we do know it's highly contagious and that there is still no cure or vaccine available.
In this situation, releasing the passengers could cause mass spread [of the disease] in many countries."
According to Edelstein, the cruise ship is a viral hotbed, in which getting infected is almost inevitable.
"The passenger's situation pains me. They are trapped in their rooms and are only allowed to go on deck for an hour a day, as more and more people around them get infected. However, the quarantine wasn't set for nothing, but for considerations of danger to public health."
According to data currently available, the coronavirus spreads mostly through saliva. For instance, if a person infected with the virus sneezes, those standing as far as 1.8 meters (5'9 feet) from him or her, would most likely catch the virus.
Although a lot is still unknown about the virus, there are no reports of infections through ventilation or air conditioning systems.
However, experts around the world have already warned the rate of the disease's spread at the cruise liner is the world's biggest and fastest so far, and the cause has not yet been clarified.
The major concern that prevents authorities from moving passengers from the ship to an isolation camp is that during this transfer, further mass contagion may occur between the passengers, as well as between passengers and medical personnel.
The U.S. Embassy in Japan announced on Saturday that it will fly back 400 of its citizens aboard the liner, anchored in the Yokohama port, south of Tokyo.
Israel also intends on rescuing its nationals on deck.
The Foreign Ministry estimates the Israelis who have not been diagnosed with the virus are set to disembark the ship when the quarantine period expires on Wednesday or Thursday, and will then be free to leave.
One of the options considered is to bring them to Israel on a special plane after being released from quarantine, taking into account those carrying the coronavirus will not be brought back.
Despite the efforts to curb the disease's spread aboard the Diamond Princess, it seems that the number of cases will only continue to soar due to its rapid spread.
Tests in China have shown that the virus can survive for days on different surfaces, can be transferred through small saliva particles and that the use of masks fails to protect against potential infection.
One of the options considered is to take the passengers to an isolation camp near the port where the ship is docked. However, setting up such a camp will take many days and will involve high costs and put medical staff on (as well as off) board at risk of getting infected.