TOKYO • Another 65 people aboard the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship moored off Japan have been diagnosed with the coronavirus, the Health Ministry said yesterday, bringing the total number of the ship's known infections to at least 135.
The Diamond Princess has been in quarantine since arriving off the Japanese coast early last week, after the virus was detected in a former passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong on Jan 25.
"Test results from 103 people have now come out, and 65 of them are confirmed positive for the new coronavirus," the ministry said in a statement, without giving further details such as their nationalities.
However, the cruise ship operator, US company Princess Cruises, said 66 people had been newly diagnosed: 45 were Japanese, 11 were Americans, four were Australians, three were Filipinos, and there was one each from Canada, Britain and Ukraine.
There was no immediate clarity on the discrepancy between that figure and the Health Ministry's.
When the vessel arrived off Japan early last week, the authorities initially tested nearly 300 people for the virus of the 3,711 on board, gradually evacuating dozens who were infected to local medical facilities.
In recent days, testing has been expanded to those with new symptoms or who had close contact with other infected passengers or crew, and several more cases were reported at the weekend.
Those who remain on the ship have been asked to stay inside their cabins, and are allowed only briefly onto open decks. They have been asked to wear masks and keep a distance from one another when outside, and given thermometers to regularly monitor their temperatures.
The ship is expected to stay in quarantine until Feb 19 - 14 days after the isolation period began.
Passengers have been speculating that the virus could be transmitted through the ship's air ventilation system.
Some have shared their concerns with the United States Embassy in Tokyo. On Sunday, the embassy sent all 428 American passengers a letter from a Centres for Disease Control and Prevention official, who said the centre "has no current evidence to suggest that the virus spreads between rooms on a ship through the air-handling system".
A spokesman for Princess Cruises said the ship was equipped with a filtration system "that meets the standards and is comparable to those found in land-based hotels, resorts and casinos".
Late Sunday night, Princess Cruises sent a letter to all passengers on board saying it would fully refund the costs of the cruise, including air travel and hotels, and that passengers would get a voucher for another cruise at a later date.
The quarantine has made life on board the ship difficult, particularly for those in windowless interior cabins and a significant number of passengers who require medication for various chronic conditions.
The Health Ministry said yesterday that around 600 people on board urgently needed medication, and around half received supplies at the weekend.
The World Health Organisation confirmed on Twitter that newly diagnosed cases on the ship should not extend the length of the quarantine. It said in a tweet: "The period will be extended beyond Feb 19 as appropriate only for close contacts of newly confirmed cases. They need to remain in quarantine for 14 days from last contact with a confirmed case."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES