National

Expert stirs controversy with video on 'inadequate' virus controls on Diamond Princess

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Controversy was stirred among the public and at the Diet Wednesday, after an infectious disease expert posted a now-deleted video online in which he claimed to have seen inadequate anti-virus contamination measures on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

In the YouTube clip posted late Tuesday, Kentaro Iwata, a professor at the infectious disease division of Kobe University Hospital, claimed he saw there was no clear separation of noncontaminated “green zones” and potentially dangerous “red zones” within the ship. “The cruise ship was completely inadequate in terms of the infection control,” he can be heard saying in English in the video clip.

“I never had fear of getting infection myself, for Ebola, SARS, cholera because I know how to protect myself and how to protect others and how the infection control should be … (but) I was so scared of getting COVID-19” inside the Diamond Princess, he said.

Opposition lawmakers immediately seized upon the video during Wednesday’s Lower House Budget Committee session, asking if the ship had set up any so-called safe “green zones” and potentially dangerous “red zones.”

Health minister Katsunobu Kato didn’t directly answer the question, instead emphasizing that areas inside the cruise liner are being “properly managed” based on advice from a team of infectious disease experts.

During a separate news conference the same day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said officials and the crew of the ship had taken “thorough measures to prevent transmission (of the virus),” such as by wearing masks and using alcohol as a disinfectant. Crew members had also remained in their rooms if they were found to be infected, Suga said.

According to Iwata, many of the officials and staff on board were indeed wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), such as helmets, gloves, face shields, face masks and other equipment. But he noted that he had also seen some who had removed some of their PPE gear and were “eating lunch with their gloves on,” and using their smartphones while still wearing other part of the gear.

According to Iwata, he boarded the vessel Tuesday as a member of the health ministry’s Disaster Medical Assistance Team.

During the budget committee session, independent opposition lawmaker Kazunori Yamanoi argued that the government had failed to prevent transmission inside the cruise ship. He highlighted that of the 2,400 passengers and crew members who had received results of tests for the COVID-19 virus as of Tuesday, 542 — more than 1 in every 5 people — were found to have been infected.

Given those figures, “it cannot be denied” that the government had failed in controlling the disease within the Diamond Princess, and that those aboard the vessel had been forced to “stay in (a confined) space permeated with the virus over the past two weeks,” Yamanoi stressed.

Staff writer Satoshi Sugiyama contributed to this report.

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