National / Science & Health

Japan to let elderly leave quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship

Kyodo, Staff Report

The government is planning to allow elderly passengers as well as those with chronic illnesses to leave the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship soon, possibly on Tuesday, a source familiar with the matter said.

The move came a day after 65 more people aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama tested positive for the novel coronavirus, bringing the tally to 135.

All 65 passengers had left the ship for medical facilities by Tuesday afternoon, according to an announcement from inside the vessel that was recorded and posted to Twitter by another passenger. That announcement also appeared to confirm that the elderly and chronically ill were also leaving the ship, saying that guests who had “required medical attention” had disembarked.

The announcement also said that 45 doctors, 55 nurses, 45 pharmacists — most of them volunteers — had arrived on the ship.

The government has asked about 3,600 passengers and crew members to stay on board in Yokohama during the two-week isolation period through Feb. 19 in an effort to contain the spread of the pneumonia-causing novel coronavirus.

The decision to let elderly people and those with chronic illnesses leave was apparently made in consideration of passengers grappling with extreme stress during their prolonged isolation on the ship. As of last Wednesday, about 80 percent of the 2,666 passengers were age 60 or older, with 215 in their 80s and 11 in their 90s.

Masahiro Kami, head of the nonprofit Medical Governance Research Institute, said that elderly people with chronic illnesses could suffer rapid aggravations of their health conditions due to stress if confined to their cramped cabins.

“They will be susceptible to virus infection and risk their lives,” Kami said.

A male passenger aboard the vessel said that some fellow passengers’ health was already eroding.

“Needed medical care is not reaching us even though there are many people whose health is deteriorating,” he said. “We want (the government) to send more doctors, nurses and consultants.”

The man, whose age was not known, pointed out that there is only one extension number for health consultations on the cruise ship, and that the number is difficult to connect to and often involves long waits to receive necessary responses.

Although the government delivered medicine for conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure for 750 people on Sunday, it has not yet been able to get antifebrile medicine to one passenger who has been suffering a high fever.

The Diamond Princess, the cruise ship operated by U.S. company Princess Cruise Lines Ltd., has been kept in quarantine since a passenger, who disembarked in Hong Kong, was found to be infected with the virus.

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