• Reuters, Kyodo, Staff Report


The health ministry let 23 passengers off the Diamond Princess cruise ship without going through mandated tests for the novel coronavirus, health minister Katsunobu Kato said Saturday.

For three days through Friday, 970 passengers who tested negative in tests after Feb. 5 were allowed to disembark the ship. The 23 passengers had been tested before Feb. 5, but results came back negative.

Having negative results was a condition to be allowed to get off the cruise liner that has seen more than 600 cases of passengers and crew members infected with the virus, NHK reported.

Kato said the ministry found out that the 23 were not tested again after Feb. 5 after reviewing information about the passengers who disembarked.

“We are deeply sorry. We will thoroughly make sure that this kind of mistake does not happen again,” said Kato.

According to the health ministry 19 of the 23 were Japanese and the rest were foreign nationals.

The number of infected individuals continued to rise in Japan on Saturday, when government officials confirmed at least 25 new cases.

Among the cases was a junior high school teacher in the city of Chiba who went to work even though she had symptoms, raising fears the virus could spread among her students and co-workers.

The government is facing growing questions about whether it is doing enough to stop the spread of the coronavirus as Tokyo prepares to host the 2020 Summer Olympics in July.

In Japan, more than 100 people have now tested positive for the flu-like illness, which has killed more than 2,300 people in mainland China. It was first identified in the central city of Wuhan late last year.

In addition, more than 600 cases have also been reported on the Diamond Princess that has been quarantined off Yokohama for more than two weeks.

Passengers who are not ill continued to leave the ship Saturday, domestic media reported, but uncertainty about the possibility of some of them having the virus is high due to concerns that quarantine procedures on the ship were not adequate.

Of the new cases reported as of Saturday evening, nine were in Hokkaido, four in Kanagawa and Aichi prefectures, three in Chiba Prefecture, two in Kumamoto Prefecture and single cases in Tokyo, Wakayama and Tochigi prefectures.

The junior high school teacher in Chiba, in her 60s, first showed symptoms on Feb. 12 and was hospitalized on Feb. 19, according to media. She went to work while she had symptoms, so the local government will close her school for two days from Feb. 25.

Another case in Chiba Prefecture involved a woman in her 30s who has been hospitalized but is not showing any symptoms, a prefectural government official said.

There is no relationship between the two women and it is uncertain how either of them got the virus, the official said.

Kumamoto and Tochigi saw their first COVID-19 cases.

The four people who tested positive in Kanagawa Prefecture are all from a family living in Sagamihara. The couple, who are in their 50s, and their daughters, who are in their 20s, are confirmed to have been infected

The father is not seriously ill and the other three have not shown any symptoms, a city official said.

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