• Staff Report


The health ministry said Thursday that 44 more people on the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked off Yokohama have tested positive for COVID-19.

Among them are 29 Japanese and 15 non-Japanese. Forty-three of the new coronavirus cases were those of passengers, while one case was that of a crew member.

The new cases bring the number of passengers and crew members infected with the virus to 218.

The total number of confirmed cases in Japan, including passengers and crew members from the ship, is now at 247. Five passengers that were sent to hospitals earlier have severe symptoms, are on artificial respirators or under intensive care, health minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters Thursday.

Elderly people made up the large majority of those newly infected with the virus, with 40 of the 44 being 70 or older. About 80 percent of the ship passengers were age 60 or over, with 215 in their 80s and 11 in their 90s, according to media.

“We are currently making hospital arrangements for those who tested positive,” Kato said.

Kato also said that people age 80 or above who have pre-existing conditions or are staying in windowless rooms will be allowed to disembark the cruise ship as early as Friday if they test negative for the coronavirus, but will need to stay at lodgings provided by the government for the time being.

That marks a major shift in government policy, as more than 3,500 passengers and crew on the Diamond Princess were originally scheduled to be quarantined through next Wednesday.

Kato said testing on about 200 passengers is underway, and those with chronic health problems or in cabins without operable windows will be given priority.

The Diamond Princess has been moored off Japan since Feb. 3 after it was learned that a former passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong last month tested positive for COVID-19.

Those who have tested positive for the new virus have been taken off the ship and taken to medical facilities, but questions have been raised about whether the quarantine on the ship is working, with dozens of new cases diagnosed almost daily.

Passengers are being confined to cabins, required to wear masks and keep their distance from each other when they are allowed out on open decks for brief periods.

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