Coronavirus: Japan to allow elderly passengers off cruise ship with 44 new cases

Left: Passengers on the deck of the Diamond Princess, which has the single largest cluster of infected people outside China. Right: The Westerdam arriving in Sihanoukville, on Cambodia's southern coast, yesterday. It had been turned away from several
Passengers on the deck of the Diamond Princess, which has the single largest cluster of infected people outside China. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Left: Passengers on the deck of the Diamond Princess, which has the single largest cluster of infected people outside China. Right: The Westerdam arriving in Sihanoukville, on Cambodia's southern coast, yesterday. It had been turned away from several
The Westerdam arriving in Sihanoukville, on Cambodia's southern coast, yesterday. It had been turned away from several Asian ports.PHOTO: REUTERS

YOKOHAMA • Japan said yesterday that it would allow some elderly passengers off a quarantined cruise ship and into government-designated lodging, as the number of coronavirus cases on the vessel jumped to 218.

Thousands of passengers and crew on the Diamond Princess - the single largest cluster of infected people outside China - face several more days of quarantine, with many taking to social media to voice their concerns.

Those working on the ship have been reluctant to speak to reporters for fear of losing their jobs, but two crew members broke their silence in a video broadcast by Indian media yesterday.

"We are scared that if the infection is spreading, it is spreading so fast that we could also become affected," Ms Sonali Thakkar, a ship security officer, said in the video clip broadcast by NDTV.

Japan's Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said there were 44 new cases, including one crew member, arising from an additional 221 tests.

He also said some elderly passengers would be allowed off the ship if they test negative for the coronavirus. Those who opt to leave will be moved to government facilities to wait out a quarantine that is set to last until Feb 19.

Captain Stefano Ravera said: "The Ministry of Health has already tested guests 80 years or older who are staying in a cabin without a balcony, and those 80 years or older with chronic medical conditions."

Another cruise ship, the MS Westerdam, blocked from several Asian ports over concerns that a passenger could be infected with the virus, arrived off Cambodia yesterday.

The ship was supposed to take its 1,455 passengers on a dream 14-day cruise around East Asia. But it was turned away from Japan, Guam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand over fears of the epidemic.

Cruise operator Holland America has insisted there are no cases of the virus on board, and China ally Cambodia announced on Wednesday that the ship would be able to dock in Sihanoukville, on its southern coast.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2020, with the headline 'Japan to allow elderly passengers off cruise ship with 44 new cases'. Print Edition | Subscribe