National / Science & Health

Japan decides to refuse entry to noncitizen cruise ship passengers bound for Okinawa due to virus concerns

by Satoshi Sugiyama

Staff Writer

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday that Japan has decided to refuse entry to noncitizen passengers on board a luxury cruise ship that is set to arrive in the country later this week as some are suspected to be infected with the new coronavirus.

The 82,000-ton ship in question is the Westerdam, which departed Hong Hong earlier this month and expected to arrive at a port in Okinawa on Saturday.

The cruise ship carries several Japanese nationals, government sources said.

The decision came as concern grew earlier in the day over the plight of over 3,700 people on board the Diamond Princess quarantined off Yokohama as 10 more cases of the new coronavirus were detected, raising the possibility of a nightmare scenario of a mass infection of people in a confined space.

The latest figure brings the total number of confirmed infections in Japan to 45, including the 20 people who have now tested positive on the cruise ship.

Of the 3,711 passengers and crew members, the health ministry has tested 273 people for the new virus, and is considering whether to test more.

Hiroko Otsubo, deputy director-general at the health ministry, said all of the 10 people verified to have the disease Thursday are passengers and all are showing symptoms. They were taken to hospitals in Kanagawa Prefecture.

“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.

Among the 10 passengers, four are Japanese, two are American, two are Canadian, one is Taiwanese and one is a New Zealander. Their ages range from their 50s to their 70s. She declined to specify their conditions but none required special assistance when being transported.

On Wednesday, nine passengers and one crew member were found to be infected with the coronavirus. All were hospitalized.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga alluded Thursday morning that hospitals outside Kanagawa may need to accommodate people from the ship who test positive with the coronavirus if the number continues to rise.

The ship came to the attention of medical authorities when it was revealed that a man who disembarked Jan. 25 in Hong Kong was infected with the coronavirus.

The 80-year-old man went on a bus tour in Kagoshima Prefecture on Jan. 22. Two people who tested positive on Wednesday also took part in the tour.

It is unclear whether the 10 people who tested positive on Thursday had any contact with the man, Otsubo said, adding there had been no new reports of people complaining about symptoms on board the ship.

The Diamond Princess was carrying 2,666 passengers and 1,045 crew members. The government has ordered the ship to be quarantined for two weeks starting Wednesday.

Passengers have been asked to stay inside their rooms as much as possible. But when they do go outside, they have been told to wear masks “at all times,” Otsubo said.

Suga told reporters Thursday that 7,200 masks and 4,000 thermometers have been brought on board. He also said necessities such as medicine would be delivered Thursday evening and items requested thereafter would be handed out “as soon as possible” starting Friday.

As of now, those on the ship who have undergone screenings for the virus are individuals who have shown symptoms or those who have had close contact with those who have.

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

Meanwhile, the government dispatched a fourth chartered flight to pick up about 200 people who wish to be evacuated from China’s Hubei province. Hubei’s capital, Wuhan, is the epicenter of the outbreak.

It was believed that Chinese family members of Japanese nationals would be allowed to board the flight.

New infections in Japan are being reported almost daily. Over 28,000 infections and more than 560 deaths from the virus have been reported in China.

On Wednesday, the health ministry announced a man in his 20s in Kyoto tested positive for the virus.

A test result taken at a local health center came back positive Tuesday, according to the ministry. The man was hospitalized Jan. 31 after first feeling ill on Jan. 24.

Kyoto municipal officials told reporters Wednesday evening the man, a Chinese national, is in stable condition and quarantined at a special unit in a hospital.

He worked at an undisclosed location in the city, where he interacted with about 300 tourists from China each day, including those from Hubei province, the ministry said. The officials said the man had not traveled to China in the last two weeks.

Information from KYODO added.

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