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COVID-19: Two elderly passengers taken off cruise ship die in Japan

A bus carrying passengers from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship prepares to leave a port in Yokohama, near Tokyo on February 20.

A bus carrying passengers from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship prepares to leave a port in Yokohama, near Tokyo on February 20.   | Photo Credit: AP

Japan’s government has been questioned over its decision to keep people on the ship, which some experts have called a perfect virus incubator

Two elderly passengers taken off the Diamond Princess cruise ship because they were infected with a new virus have died, Japan’s Health Ministry said Thursday, becoming the first fatalities from the virus-stricken vessel.

Japan now has three deaths linked to the COVID-19 disease.

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Japan’s NHK public television said both were Japanese in their 80s. A Health Ministry official only confirmed that they had been previously hospitalised for serious health condition and had existing chronic diseases. The official spoke anonymously, citing office protocol.

The coronavirus outbreak began in China late last year and has infected tens of thousands of people, mostly in central China’s Hubei province. The 621 cases confirmed among the Diamond Princess’s original 3,711 people on board are the most anywhere outside China. In all, Japan has more than 700 confirmed cases, including the country’s first death unrelated to the ship.

The Diamond Princess, docked in Yokohama port near Tokyo, started letting passengers who tested negative for the virus off the ship Wednesday, when the government-set 14-day quarantine ended. On Thursday, hundreds of other passengers were also expected to leave in a massive disembarkation process expected to last through Friday. Test results are still pending for some people on board.

Japan’s government has been questioned over its decision to keep people on the ship, which some experts have called a perfect virus incubator. Some medical experts who observed the quarantine process on board also raised caution over lax protective measures on the ship.

Also read | Japan vows to step up efforts on coronavirus testing, containment after first fatality

Kentaro Iwata, an infectious diseases expert at Kobe University Hospital who got on the ship as part of a medical relief team earlier this week, said in a YouTube video that he was alarmed by the lack of control measures, including distinction between clean and contaminated zones, and the inadequate use of protective gear. He called it “chaotic” and said it made him scared of getting infected himself.

Iwata, currently in self-imposed quarantine at a hotel, blamed poor management in a video conference Thursday.

Iwata also said Japan should follow the example of the U.S. and other countries requiring an additional two-week quarantine for passengers they brought home from the ship.

About 440 passengers had left the ship by Wednesday evening, and Japanese officials said more than 1,000 others will be gone by Friday. The Diamond Princess was quarantined after one passenger who left the ship earlier in Hong Kong was found to have the virus.

Crew members, who couldn’t be confined to their rooms because they were working and causing secondary infections, are expected to stay on the ship. In a preliminary report issued Wednesday, the National Institute of Infectious Diseases said that the substantial transmission of the virus occurred before the February 5 implementation of the quarantine, and that a downtrend in the number of confirmed cases based on reported onset dates indicated secondary transmission among passengers was effectively reduced during the process.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said a more controlled health watch for the crew would start as the passengers get off because they can isolate themselves by spreading out and using vacated passenger rooms.

Before the quarantine on the ship had ended, the United States evacuated more than 300 Americans and put them in quarantine in the U.S. for another 14 days. South Korea, Australia and Hong Kong evacuated their residents for quarantines as well, and Canada and Italy sent flights for their citizens as well.

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 8:23:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/covid-19-two-elderly-passengers-taken-off-cruise-ship-die-in-japan/article30868406.ece

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