Dozens more people on the cruise ship Diamond Princess in Japan have been quarantined after tested positive for the coronavirus. Thousands of passengers remained confined to their cabins, only allowed on deck briefly for fresh air.
The Diamond Princess, operated by Princess Cruises, has been placed on a two-week quarantine. The cruise ship arrived in Yokohama port on Monday.
Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told a news conference 41 people on the ship had tested positive for coronavirus on Friday. Bringing the total of confirmed cases to 61. Furthermore twenty one of the new cases were Japanese.
Those infected were moved to hospitals in Tokyo and neighboring towns, the Health Ministry said. Blue and white tarpaulin sheets were hung up to screen them from the view of other passengers.
About 3,700 people are aboard the Diamond Princess, which usually has a crew of 1,100 and a passenger capacity of 2,670. The Princess Cruise website also describes the ship as “your home away from home.” It will remain so for most passengers at least until Feb. 19.
The cruise ship quarantine period could be extended
The 61 cases came from a sample of 273 people who had been tested because they had showed symptoms. Or been in close contact with those who did. More tests will be done if more passengers developed symptoms, Kato said.
Staff has also distributed thermometers and passengers were told mental health experts were available for phone consultations.
“We have instructions to monitor our temperatures and report if we’re above 37.5,” a 43-year-old Hong Kong resident on the ship with his family told Reuters. Normal human body temperature is generally accepted to be 37 Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit).
Passengers were finding out about the new infections from the internet before they were announced on the ship, said the Hong Kong man, who declined to be identified.
Ashley Rhodes-Courter, an American whose parents are on the ship, said she hoped U.S. officials would help get them off. They are all breathing circulated contaminated air so they could be getting everyone infected.
Other Cruise ship concerns
The Japanese official said the government saw no risk of the virus being spread by the ship’s ventilation system.
Paul Hunter, an expert in infectious disease at Britain’s University of East Anglia, said the potential for cruise ships spreading the epidemic across the world was becoming a serious concern.
“Cruise ships are environments where respiratory infections can spread very quickly,” he said.
They also carry the risk of transmitting a viral infection to other countries as passengers embark and disembark.
“Furthermore I wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see more problems with cruise ships in the coming weeks,” Hunter said.
Transport Minister Kazuyoshi Akaba told reporters Japan had asked another cruise ship, the Westerdam, not to make a port call in the country.
The governor of the U.S. island territory of Guam, in the Pacific Ocean, on Friday rejected a U.S. State Department request to allow the Westerdam to dock there.
The new ship cases take the total number of coronavirus infections in Japan to more than 80, according to Reuters calculations. Kato said Japan was not including those cases in its national count, which stands at 21.
The outbreak, which has killed about 700 people in mainland China and two elsewhere. Even more outbreak has stoked concern about the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which begin on July 24.
Games organizers have also set up a task force to coordinate with health authorities on how to respond to the epidemic.