First to leave Japan's coronavirus cruise ship: Passengers over 80

The first to leave Japan’s coronavirus cruise ship: Passengers over 80 who tested negative for the virus are taken away in blacked out buses to complete their quarantine on land

  • Officials said 11 passengers who tested negative for the virus had been taken off
  • Those aged over 80, with poor health or in windowless cabins were allowed off
  • There are still around 2,500 passengers stuck on board the Diamond Princess 

Elderly passengers over 80 were among the first passengers to be allowed off the Japanese coronavirus cruise ship today as they were driven away in buses with blacked out windows.

Officials said 11 passengers who had tested negative for the virus had been taken off the Diamond Princess but would continue their quarantine period in accommodation on land.

Passengers aged 80 or over, those suffering poor health or anyone confined to windowless inner cabins had been given the option of leaving the ship where more than 200 people have caught the infection.

There are still around 2,500 passengers stuck on board since it docked off the Japanese coast on February 3 including British couple David and Sally Abel, from Northamptonshire.

Passengers are mostly confined to their cabins and have to wear masks and stay away from other passengers when they are let out for brief periods.

The first passengers to leave were driven away in buses with blacked out windows today

At the wheel of one bus the driver was dressed in a head-to-toe white protective suit, complete with goggles and mask as the first passengers were taken to isolated accommodation on land 

Around 2,500 passengers are still stuck on the massive cruise ship. They are mostly confined to their cabins and have to wear masks when they are briefly allowed out  

The first to leave on Friday were seen in face masks being taken away 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.

The Diamond Princess is anchored off the port of Yokohama in Japan 

Medics and officials in protective gear put a protective tunnel from the ship to the back of an ambulance as some passengers aged over 80 or with poor health were allowed to leave

He said: ‘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.’

In a statement read out in English by the ship’s captain in a public broadcast, he added: ‘We are aware that many people are worried and concerned about the situation. 

‘However, to improve the situation as much as possible, the government is making its best efforts.’

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 33 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.

A doctor in Wakayama prefecture and a patient treated in the hospital where the doctor worked have also been diagnosed.

David and Sally Abel, from Northamptonshire, are among 2,500 passengers who have been stuck on the Diamond Princess off the Japanese coast since February 3

A picture taken by David Abel shows the inside of the Diamond Princess cruise ship

Officials in the region said they were still not sure if the doctor had infected the patient.

‘It is difficult to trace the route of the infection’, governor Yoshinobu Nisaka told reporters.

He said officials were asking people in the area ‘to report suspicious cases of pneumonia so that we can immediately conduct tests’.

The hospital has been closed to visitors and medical staff are now being tested for the virus, Nisaka added.

Despite the new infections, government officials sought to play down concerns about the spread of the virus in Japan.

‘There is not enough epidemiological evidence to suggest that the epidemic is spreading inside Japan,’ government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

Passengers have been confined to their cabins on the ship since it was put in quarantine

‘We will keep collecting epidemiological information including on the routes of infection.’

The Diamond Princess has been quarantined off Japan since early February after it emerged a former passenger who got off the boat in Hong Kong had tested positive for the virus.

The quarantine is due to end on February 19 and those on the ship have been mostly confined to their cabins and asked to wear masks and keep their distance from other passengers during brief outings on open deck.

David and Sally Abel told Good Morning Britain yesterday that couples are being split up if one of them tests positive for the virus, which has had 219 cases on board so far. 

Mr Abel said: ‘It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been married, couples have been separated. 

‘Elderly couples, one I understand in their eighties, have been split up. It’s very very worrying for those on board.’

His wife Sally added: ‘We’ve been together 50 years and the thought of one of us being positive and one not and being split is very scary.’

Crew on board have expressed concern that their conditions – including shared cabins, bathrooms and workspaces – put them at greater risk of contracting the virus.

On Friday afternoon, the crew distributed iPhones to passengers on board, with the captain saying the handsets had been sent by the Japanese government.

‘We are distributing iPhones to all staterooms, loaded with an application… (that) will help you to get medical support. Full instructions will be distributed together with the phones,’ he said.

 

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