YOKOHAMA: Japan on Friday began allowing elderly passengers who test negative for the new coronavirus to leave a quarantined cruise ship and finish their isolation in government-designated lodging.
Japan’s government has given passengers aged 80 or older in poor health or confined to windowless inner cabins on the Diamond Princess the chance to move from the ship to accommodation on land.
But only those who test negative for the virus that has so far infected more than 200 people on board the ship have the option to move.
The first of them departed the massive cruise ship on Friday afternoon, travelling in buses with blacked out windows.
At the wheel, one driver was dressed in a head-to-toe white protective suit, complete with goggles and mask.
A government official said 11 people had left, but declined to say whether more would depart Friday or offer further details.
The move comes a day after the number of infections diagnosed on the ship rose to 218.
Senior health ministry official Gaku Hashimoto boarded the ship Friday morning to announce that all passengers “who are considered to be high risk in general health” would now be tested for the virus.
“Those who test positive will be transferred to the hospital. Those who test negative will — at the request of the individual — disembark and be transferred to accommodation provided by the government,” he said in a statement in English read out by the ship’s captain in a public broadcast.
There were more than 3,700 people on the ship when it arrived off the Japanese coast last week, but those diagnosed with the virus have been taken off the boat, along with some people suffering other health conditions requiring medical attention.
Ten of those hospitalised are now in serious condition, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said on Friday.
Excluding the cases on the ship, and an infected quarantine officer, Japanese authorities have so far diagnosed 36 people with the newly named COVID-19.
The newly diagnosed cases include a woman in her 80s whose positive test result emerged after she died in hospital.
The woman was reportedly the mother-in-law of a taxi driver in Tokyo who has also been diagnosed with the virus.
The Tokyo government announced on Friday two people who were at a new year party the taxi driver attended are also infected with the virus. One of the two had contact with tourists from Hubei, the Chinese province where the virus emerged, the government said.
A new case was also confirmed in southern Okinawa islands with a taxi driver in her 60s. She is likely to have had contact with passengers of the Diamond Princess when the ship stopped by at an Okinawan port, the prefecture said.