A total of 61 people who had been on board a cruise ship quarantined off the coast of Yokohama have tested positive for the coronavirus, with 41 more cases reported by Japan’s Health Ministry yesterday.
They were among the 273 people screened on the Diamond Princess luxury liner after a passenger – an 80-year-old man who disembarked in Hong Kong on Jan 25 – had tested positive for the pathogen. Five passengers on the ship are from Singapore.
Those who are ill have been taken to hospitals across Tokyo, Kanagawa, Chiba, Saitama and Shizuoka prefectures for treatment.
“As they were staying together for a prolonged period in a closed environment, their contact was repeated,” Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters.
“Our top priority is to check the health of passengers and crew of the cruise ship and take thorough measures to prevent infections.”
While those who were tested had reported flu symptoms or close contact with an infected patient, Mr Kato said that the tests may be expanded to more people.
The 61 cases comprise 60 passengers and a crew member. They include 28 Japanese, 11 Americans, seven each from Australia and Canada, three from Hong Kong, one each from Argentina, Britain, New Zealand and Taiwan, as well as a Filipino crew member.
One is in serious condition.
The remaining 3,650 passengers and crew members of the Diamond Princess, among them the five Singaporeans, will be isolated on board the ship until Feb 19, as Japan acts to stem the spread of the virus.
Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs told The Straits Times that all the Singaporeans have reported they are physically well and that the Singapore Embassy in Tokyo is in contact with them to provide the necessary consular assistance.
Yesterday was the third day of the two-week quarantine period.
Ms Elaine Spencer, who boarded the Diamond Princess with her husband on Jan 6 at the Marina Bay Cruise Centre in Singapore, told The Straits Times yesterday that the couple were in good spirits despite the rise in new cases.
They were allowed out of their cabin for the first time in more than 40 hours earlier in the day to stroll the deck, said the 54-year-old.
Small groups of about 50 were given 11/2 hours each to stretch their legs, and each person had to wear a mask and gloves, she said.
“No one really spoke, we were advised to stay 1m away from each other. I think people were pleased to get some fresh air,” said the health and social care trainer.
Thermometers were also distributed to all passengers, with instructions to monitor their temperatures over the remainder of the quarantine and to inform staff if the reading went above 37.5 deg C.
The risk of contagion in confined spaces like cruise ships has led Japan to ban all foreigners on board cruise ships with suspected cases from entering the country.
This comes as the Westerdam, which set sail from Hong Kong on Feb 1, is due to dock in Okinawa today and Yokohama next week.
Meanwhile, a fourth chartered All Nippon Airways flight landed at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport from Wuhan yesterday with 198 passengers, including the Chinese spouses and children of Japanese nationals.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said yesterday that Tokyo will do all that is necessary to mitigate the impact of the outbreak on the economy, which could include dipping into budget reserves. Japan has 25 cases of the coronavirus infection.
The World Health Organisation said that the 61 cases on the Diamond Princess are “cases on an international conveyance” and should not count in the country’s total.