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Coronavirus

79 new cases of Coronavirus detected on Japan cruise ship

A passenger waves a towel to the media as another waves a Japanese flag on the cruise ship Diamond Princess at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan February 12, 2020.
A passenger waves a towel to the media as another waves a Japanese flag on the cruise ship Diamond Princess at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan February 12, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon
Text by: David Coffey with RFI
3 min

Hundreds of passengers have disembarked from a cruise ship in Japan after being given the all-clear for the coronavirus. However health officials say 79 new cases have been detected onboard.

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With 621 positive cases the Diamond Princess is the biggest cluster of infected people outside China, and Japan has faced mounting criticism for its quarantine arrangements as passengers disperse across the world.

The disease has now claimed more than 2,000 lives in China and has spread panic worldwide.

Those newly diagnosed with the virus will be taken off the ship to hospital, and after being treated will have to undergo another quarantine.

Earlier, those who had tested negative for the virus began leaving the ship.

Latest figures from China showed the death toll surging beyond 2,000 with more than 74,000 infected, although the rate of new cases is slowing.

Hundreds more cases have been reported in two dozen countries, including 20 in South Korea -- a two-thirds rise -- with a cluster of at least 16 around the southern city of Daegu.

Hong Kong also reported its second death from the virus, which has proved extremely infectious.

For the 500 passengers leaving the Diamond Princess after testing negative, a difficult 14-day quarantine period has come to an end after their dream cruise turned into a nightmare of fear and boredom, confined in many cases to small windowless cabins.

 'Major failure' 

Many were left onboard to wait for test results that would allow them to disembark.

Michael Ryan, head of the World Health Organization's emergencies programme, said the outbreak was "very serious" and could grow, but stressed that outside China's Hubei province, it was "affecting a very, very tiny, tiny proportion of people".

In Japan, some have raised concerns about allowing people from the cruise ship to board flights home or spread into the notoriously busy Japanese capital.

Kentaro Iwata, a professor at the infectious diseases division of Kobe University, blasted the on-ship quarantine as a "major failure, a mistake".

"It is highly likely secondary infections occurred," according to Iwata, who added that scepticism from abroad of the quarantine was "only natural".

He later said in a video published online that he was self-quarantining after a brief visit to the ship, where he raised major concerns about the procedures on board.

"It was completely chaotic," he said.

Elated passengers also began disembarking from a second cruise ship that has been at the centre of coronavirus fear, the Westerdam, which made shore in Sihanoukville in Cambodia.

Hundreds were allowed off after basic health checks -- among them an 83-year-old American woman who was later diagnosed with the virus while in transit in Malaysia.

That raised fears many other Westerdam passengers could be spreading the virus as they scattered, although no other cases have been recorded.

Several countries appear to have lost patience with the quarantine on board the Diamond Princess and chartered planes to repatriate citizens.

In the first such evacuation Monday, more than 300 Americans flew home -- even though 14 had tested positive. 

Britain, Hong Kong and Australia are among other countries that have vowed to repatriate people from the ship but will insist on a further 14-day quarantine on home soil.

 

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