About 500 passengers finally left a quarantined cruise ship yesterday. They had been on board for two weeks. But the confinement failed to stop the spread of the dreaded new coronavirus among passengers and crew docked in Yokohama, Japan.
By most measures, the quarantine aboard the Diamond Princess was a flop. Japanese officials insist the number of patients infected with the illness named COVID-19 is leveling off. But cases on the ship have continued to rise. Yesterday, authorities announced 79 more cases. That brings the ship’s total to 621. Others of the 3,711 people on the vessel may also be infected—but just not showing symptoms yet.
Japan’s decision to keep people on the ship has been unpopular. Some experts have called the trapped ship a perfect virus incubator. In fact, the cruise ship is the site of the most infections outside of China.
Because of the concerns, many foreign governments won’t let passengers from the ship return home unless they go through another quarantine period.
Japanese health officials defend the 14-day quarantine and the safeguards taken on the ship. About 1,000 crew members were told to wear surgical masks, wash their hands, use disinfectant sprays, and stop working at restaurants and other entertainment areas during the 14-day quarantine. But they continued to serve guests by delivering food, letters, and towels and entering passenger cabins for cleaning.
Passengers had to stay in their cabins and not walk around or contact other passengers. Those in windowless cabins could go out on the deck for about an hour each day.
Before leaving, passengers who tested negative and had no symptoms had to get their body temperature checked. They each received a certificate stating their negative test results and completion of the quarantine.
Anyone who tested positive recently is still on the ship. Those people must wait for transportation to hospitals. All crew members had to stay on board as well.
Not everyone felt good about disembarking. “I’m a bit concerned if I’m OK to get off the ship, but it was getting very difficult physically,” says a 77-year-old man from Saitama, near Tokyo.
Health Minister Katsunobu Kato urges former passengers to stay home for about two more weeks, saying, “Extra caution will contribute to preventing the risk of future infections.”
(An unidentified passenger disembarks from the quarantined cruise ship Wednesday, February 19, 2020, in Yokohama, near Tokyo. AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)