Diamond Princess sees first coronavirus fatalities, Westerdam crew can disembark

Wearing protective gear near the cruise ship Diamond Princess in Yokohama, Japan. Credit: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

Two elderly passengers from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship have died from coronavirus (COVID-19) on 20 February 2020, marking the first deaths from the coronavirus-stricken vessel.

The deceased, a Japanese man and woman in their 80s, were taken off the ship on 11 February and 12 February, and had underlying health conditions.

The Diamond Princess quarantine officially ended on 19 February, two weeks after the ship arrived in Yokohama. It was quarantined as a former passenger, a Hong Kong man, had tested positive for COVID-19.

With 621 positive cases confirmed among the passengers and crew as of 19 February, Diamond Princess is the biggest COVID-19 cluster outside China.

After about 400 US nationals were evacuated on 17 February, there were still approximately 2,000 passengers on board.

On 19 February, 443 passengers disembarked from the ship after testing negative for COVID-19 and not showing symptoms during the quarantine period. It will take at least three days for every passenger to leave, as those with close contact with the infected persons will be monitored for a few more days.

About 500 more passengers were leaving the ship as of noon local time 20 February. Australia, Canada, Italy, and the United Kingdom are among countries that are planning to evacuate their nationals from Diamond Princess.

The cruise ship was initially carrying about 3,700 passengers and crew members from more than 50 countries and regions.

The high number of COVID-19 infections has caused concern among the Japanese public, with opposition lawmakers questioning if it is safe to let the remaining Diamond Princess passengers roam freely around Japan.

Health Minister Katsunobu Katō has defended the quarantine measures, saying his ministry had conducted “consultations on appropriate infection control in the ship” with experts and taken a range of measures.

On a happier note, Holland America Line told SAS that all 747 crew on its Westerdam cruise ship can disembark after testing negative for COVID-19.

This news came in addition to the announcement yesterday that 781 guests in Cambodia tested negative and were cleared to begin their travels home. All testing was conducted by the Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh.

A passenger on Westerdam tested positive for COVID-19 after disembarking on 13 February. The ship was turned away by five other ports after picking up passengers in Hong Kong, which has seen some COVID-19 cases.

Westerdam was finally allowed to dock at Sihanoukville after being turned away by Thailand’s Laem Chabang port, and was due to depart Yokohama for a 14-day round trip cruise, visiting mostly Japanese ports.

Holland America Line and Princess Cruises are part of Carnival Corporation, a British-US cruise giant.

Holland America Line said, “Twenty-five crew members were originally scheduled to disembark the ship on 15 February at the end of their work contracts. They will now begin their travels home. The rest of the crew will remain on Westerdam to continue their work contracts.”

COVID-19 causes pneumonia-like symptoms and first surfaced in the city of Wuhan, China, in December 2019. By the time the city was locked down on 23 January 2020, the illness had spread across Asia, Europe, parts of North America, as well as Australia and the Middle East.

More than 70,000 infections and 2,000 deaths have been reported, exceeding that of the SARS outbreak in 2003.

The World Health Organization has declared the situation a global health emergency.