• Kyodo, staff report


An Italian cruise ship docked in Nagasaki for repairs with 623 crew members aboard has become the latest host of a COVID-19 cluster, with the confirmation of at least 33 infections on Wednesday.

Nagasaki Prefecture confirmed the spike in infections on the Costa Atlantica, currently docked at the Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Co. facility in Nagasaki’s Koyagi district. Gov. Hodo Nakamura said Wednesday he would request assistance from the Self-Defense Forces to deal with the outbreak. A committee of Health Ministry experts said it appeared a cluster of infections had occurred aboard the ship.

Those who show symptoms of ill health will be transferred to medical facilities in the area, while those who test negative will be returned to their home countries. As of Wednesday, 57 crew members had been tested.

The Costa Atlantica was not carrying any passengers, local media reported.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference Wednesday that Japan had sent officials and specialists from the health ministry to visit the ship in response to a request from the Italian government for assistance.

“We will take appropriate measures to prevent the spread of the virus in cooperation with Nagasaki Prefecture and others,” he said.

The ship arrived at the Mitsubishi facility on Jan. 29 for repairs and was scheduled to depart at the end of this month. It was originally supposed to undergo the repairs in China, but ended up in Nagasaki due to the outbreak in Wuhan, first detected late last year.

While docked in Nagasaki, no passengers were taken on board and crew members were restricted in their access to shore, the prefecture and Mitsubishi told local media. At first, a bus was provided to allow the crew into the city for shopping trips. But the prefecture issued a request on March 13 that no one disembark, and the ship’s owners said they would comply.

On April 14, a crew member developed a high fever and the ship’s doctor ordered him to be quarantined in a room on the vessel. On Sunday, four crew members showing signs of illness underwent testing, and the following day, one of them was discovered to have been infected with the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The results of the testing, as of Wednesday afternoon, showed 33 infections, 23 negative results and one test that was inconclusive. None of those who tested positive as of Wednesday were in a serious condition.

Mitsubishi affiliated employees were reported by local media to have been sent aboard to collect garbage and carry on supplies from April 1, but have had no direct contact with the crew since April 9. There were no reports of illness among them, but some have been asked to self-quarantine at home for two weeks.

The cruise ship infections come weeks after the Diamond Princess, a British-flagged cruise ship, suffered an outbreak of COVID-19 onboard after entering the port of Yokohama on Feb. 3. The outbreak, and the Japanese government’s handling of it, captured international headlines. Of the 3,711 passengers and crew, 712 were infected and 13 have died.

The ship was disinfected and departed Yokohama on March 26. It is scheduled to return to service next month, according to the Japanese unit of Carnival Corp., a cruise company based in Miami.

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