Passengers who tested negative for the new coronavirus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship have begun leaving the quarantined vessel in Japan amid heavy criticism over the country’s handling of the outbreak.
According to a Japanese health expert who visited the cruise ship at the port in Yokohama, the situation on board was “completely chaotic”.
US officials said moves to contain the coronavirus “may not have been sufficient”.
Passengers have described the difficult quarantine situation on the cruise ship.
According to recent reports, at least 542 passengers and crew on the Diamond Princess have so far been infected by the Covid-19 virus – the biggest cluster outside mainland China.
The Diamond Princess was carrying 3,700 people in total.
Meanwhile, several nations have evacuated their citizens from the vessel as the number of confirmed cases continues to rise.
On January 16, hundreds of American passengers were removed and placed in quarantine.
The US, the UK, Canada and Australia will place all those released from the Diamond Princess in another 14 days’ quarantine when they return home.
However, several experts have questioned the effectiveness of the quarantine measures on the Diamond Princess.
Japan’s Kentaro Iwata, professor at the infectious diseases division of Kobe University, described the situation on board as “completely inadequate in terms of infection control”.
After visiting the ship, Prof. Kentaro Iwata posted a video to YouTube stating that the quarantine measures he witnessed failed to separate the infected from the healthy.
The professor reported:
Passengers and crew members were moving freely between the green zone, which is supposedly infection-free, and the virus-hit red zone;
People were eating together and sharing living quarters;
A failure to wear protective clothing, including among medical staff
No professional infection control specialist on board.
Prof. Iwata said he was more afraid of catching the virus on board than he had been working in the field in Africa during the Ebola epidemic and in China during the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak.
According to the WHO, there was also no major shift in the coronavirus’s pattern of mortality or severity.
On February 12, Hubei recorded 242 deaths, the deadliest day of the outbreak.
There was also a huge increase in cases, with 14,840 people diagnosed but most of this was down to Hubei using a broader definition to diagnose people, said Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s health emergencies program.
He said: “This does not represent a significant change in the trajectory of the outbreak.”
Outside China there had been two deaths and 447 cases in 24 countries, he said.
On February 13, Japan announced its first coronavirus death – a woman in her 80s who lived in Kanagawa, south-west of Tokyo.
The woman’s diagnosis was confirmed after her death and she had no obvious link to China’s Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, Japanese media reported.
The Diamond Princess cruise ship is in quarantine in Yokohama. Not all the 3,700 people on board have been tested yet.
People with the virus are taken to hospitals on land to be treated, while those on board are largely confined to their cabins.
On February 13, Japan said it would allow those aged 80 or over who have tested negative for the coronavirus to disembark.
Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said they could be allowed off the ship as early as February 14 but would have to stay in accommodation provided by the government, the Japan Times reported.
Meanwhile another cruise ship – the MS Westerdam – carrying more than 2,000 people docked in Cambodia after being turned away by ports in Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines and Thailand despite having no sick patients on board.
Until February 13 increases, the number of people with the virus in Hubei was stabilizing.
The new cases and deaths in the province have pushed the national death toll above 1,350 with almost 60,000 infections in total.
White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said there had been “surprise” in the US at the new cases.
He said: “We’re a little disappointed in the lack of transparency coming from the Chinese, these numbers are jumping around.”
The Trump administration was also disappointed that China had not accepted a US offer to send experts to help China respond to the outbreak, Larry Kudlow said.
China sacked two top officials in Hubei province hours after the new figures were revealed.
Only Hubei province – which accounts for more than 80% of overall Chinese infections – is using the new definition to diagnose new cases.