More coronavirus infections on quarantined Diamond Princess

The Diamond Princess cruise ship anchored off Yokohama port in Japan. Twenty people on board have tested positive for the Wuhan coronavirus. Credit: Reuters

Ten more coronavirus infections have been confirmed on the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess in Japan, bringing the total number of infections to 20 people on board.

The ship, Princess Cruises’ Diamond Princess, had been quarantined off Yokohama port after arriving on 4 February 2020, after it transpired that an 80-year-old passenger from Hong Kong tested positive for the coronavirus.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe ordered the ship to be quarantined for two weeks as the coronavirus has an incubation period of up to 14 days. So far, blood samples have been collected from 273 people from Diamond Princess.

Hiroko Otsubo, deputy director-general at the health ministry, said all 10 people verified to have the disease on 6 February are passengers and all are showing symptoms. The 10 people found to be infected on 5 February comprise nine passengers and one crew. They were all taken to hospitals in Kanagawa Prefecture.

These infected passengers comprise four Japanese, two US nationals, two Canadians, one Taiwanese, and one New Zealander. Their ages range from 50 to 70 years old.

“We’ll continue quarantine procedures as we ask passengers to stay inside the ship for a necessary period, to take precautionary actions to prevent infection, and stay inside their rooms,” Otsubo said.

Passengers have been told not to step outside of their rooms. But when they do go outside, they have been asked to wear masks at all times, Otsubo said.

More than 7,000 masks and 4,000 thermometers have been brought on board. Currently, those on the ship who have been screened for the virus are people who have shown symptoms or those who have had close contact with infected ones.

The health ministry is considering whether to expand testing for the coronavirus to include seniors and people with pre-existing conditions, Otsubo added.

A spokesperson for Princess Cruises, a unit of Carnival Corporation, told SAS that the cruise line’s public health team is putting in additional procedures to account for the change in onboard operations.

The spokesperson said, “Our crew are trained in safety and public health standards. In addition, we’re implementing processes developed in co-ordination with public health officials to support the elevated requirements of this situation.

“The health and safety of our guests and crew remains our top priority. We continue to work closely with the Japan Ministry of Health on all protocols and procedures while ensuring the comfort of our guests.”

Originating in Wuhan, Hubei’s provincial capital, in December 2019, the coronavirus has infected more than 28,000 people in China and killed more than 500 people. The coronavirus has also surfaced across Asia, parts of Europe, and Australia, as well as North America.

On 1 February, Japan began refusing entry to foreigners who have been in Hubei province in the past 14 days as well as Chinese nationals with passports issued in Hubei province.  

Japan is widening the scope of its screening for the virus, and test criteria after initial tests failed to detect the virus in some people who were later found to be infected.

Prior to this, there were 20 confirmed coronavirus infections in Japan, with 17 of the infected people having been in Wuhan. There is also one case of local transmission.