TOKYO: Another 88 people aboard a cruise ship off Japan have tested positive for the coronavirus, authorities said Tuesday, as those free of the disease hoped they were spending their last night on board before disembarking.
The new cases take the total from the Diamond Princess to 542 — easily the biggest cluster outside the epicentre in China — as the cruise ship has proved an especially virulent breeding ground for the virus despite quarantine.
The new cases will be sent to specialised hospitals, the ministry said in a statement, without giving further details such as their nationalities.
Sixty-five of those who tested positive were not yet showing symptoms.
Britain became the latest country to offer its citizens a way off the boat, saying it was “working to organise a flight back to the UK” as doubts grow over the effectiveness of the quarantine measures with every spike in positive cases.
Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and South Korea have already said they will evacuate their citizens from the ship, following the lead from the United States, which flew home around 300 Americans on Monday — including more than a dozen who had tested positive.
The rescued Americans are being quarantined off for two more weeks of medical seclusion.
The first US flight touched down at Travis Air Force Base in California shortly before midnight Sunday, followed by the second early Monday at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.
Before they boarded the flights, US officials were informed that 14 of the passengers tested days earlier had received positive results. Authorities allowed them to fly but isolated them from other passengers in a “special containment area”.
US officials deemed 13 of the cases “high risk” for COVID-19 and sent them to the University of Nebraska Medical Center for treatment and re-testing.
One American traveler, Sarah Arana, told AFP before leaving the ship that she was ready to go because a proper quarantine was needed.
“This was not it,” she said.
Some Americans on the Diamond Princess declined their government’s offer.
“My health is fine. And my two-week quarantine is almost over,” tweeted Matt Smith, questioning why he should want to leave.
Forty other US passengers tested positive for the virus and were taken to hospitals in Japan, said Anthony Fauci, a senior official at the National Institutes for Health.