A year since Israel's first COVID patient: Looking back.
No one could have envisioned the year of the pandemic.
Magen David Adom paramedic Rami Maushar was scared but excited the night of February 21. He stood on the cold tarmac at Ben-Gurion Airport to greet the 11 Israelis who were returning to the country after being quarantined on the Diamond Princess “coronavirus” ship for 14 days. At around 4 a.m. on Friday, the small charter plane landed.
He was standing there in his white personal protective gear: a special suit, mask, hat and dedicated glasses that were all chosen according to previous protocols used in cases when there is a risk of infection with a virus.
“We were nervous because we only really heard about this virus in the media,” Maushar, from Lod, recalled. “It was also a little scary because it was not exactly clear what we were encountering.” He and his colleagues had been training for the previous three days to be able to meet the returnees and safely transport them to Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, where they would enter quarantine for another 14 days. He said his training even included how to drive the bus from the airport to the hospital in the fastest possible way, and how to see through the personal protective masks that were expected to fog during the drive. When the passengers arrived, he said he was very practical and ready to do his duty.
“As emergency medical personnel, it is our duty to help everyone who needs us,” he told The Jerusalem Post. Maushar has been an MDA volunteer since the age of 15. “You get a task and you do it as an emissary of MDA.”
At the time, he told the media: “It is a source of pride for me, as a paramedic in Israel’s national rescue organization, to take part in the national effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the country. Meeting the Israelis who finally returned to their country after being isolated on the ship was very exciting. And we did our best to make them feel calm and secure.”
He recalled in his talk with the Post how they sang the whole way from the airport to Sheba, songs like Am Yisrael Chai. At that time, he said, no one could have envisioned the year of the pandemic. They were just happy to be back in Israel. “We are all happy,” one woman told KAN News that day. The Israelis had been stuck on the cruise ship since February 3, after coronavirus was discovered among the passengers. Later that Friday, Israel’s first coronavirus patient was discovered by Sheba, despite all of the passengers testing negative before arriving in Israel. She was a 70-year-old woman, the wife of a patient who had tested positive aboard the ship and was being treated in Japan. She was asymptomatic.
Three other Israelis had also tested positive on the ship and were still abroad. More than 620 cases had been confirmed among the Diamond Princess’ original 3,711 passengers – at the time, the highest number of infected people outside of China.
“She was in a lot of stress” upon hearing her diagnosis, Dr. Gili Regev-Yochay, head of Sheba’s Infectious Diseases unit, said at the time. “We made a big effort to calm her and her family down.”
At the time, the novel coronavirus was still novel. It was known to some as the “China virus,” because it had been discovered in China in late December 2019 and had sickened tens of thousands of people there, mostly in the country’s central Hubei province.
“We are always the first,” Maushar said. He told the Post that this year of the pandemic has been about being pioneers on many fronts – from home testing to drive-in centers to now vaccinating the elderly and homebound.