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China Daily Global / 2020-02 / 14 / Page006

Japan to let elderly leave virus-hit liner

China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-02-14 00:00

44 new cases confirmed aboard quarantined Diamond Princess

TOKYO-Japan will allow some elderly passengers on a quarantined cruise liner who test negative for the novel coronavirus to disembark ahead of schedule, the health minister said on Thursday, as a further 44 new cases were confirmed aboard the Diamond Princess.

Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said elderly passengers who have pre-existing conditions or are in windowless rooms would be allowed to leave starting from Friday, rather than the originally targeted date of Feb 19, and complete their quarantine ashore.

With the number of those infected on the cruise ship now up to 218 plus one quarantine officer, concerns have been raised about conditions on the ship, where about 3,500 people remain on board.

The liner was quarantined on arrival in Yokohama, near Tokyo, on Feb 3 after a man who disembarked from the liner in Hong Kong before it traveled to Japan was diagnosed with the virus-now named COVID-19-that has now killed more than 1,350 in China.

About 80 percent of the ship passengers were aged 60 or over, with 215 in their 80s and 11 in their 90s, according to Japanese media. The ship typically has a crew of 1,100 and a passenger capacity of 2,670.

"We will make every effort to ensure the safety and peace of mind of the people," Kato said, without confirming the number of passengers who may leave ahead of schedule.

The minister said those who fit the criteria and wished to disembark would be housed in unspecified facilities provided by the Japanese government.

Those who had been in close contact with people who tested positive would not be allowed to leave the ship, he added.

Kyodo news agency said the additional 44 cases included 43 passengers and one crew member, with the total number of confirmed cases in Japan rising to 247, including those infected on the Diamond Princess.

US ship off Cambodia

Meanwhile, a US cruise ship blocked from several Asian ports over concerns that a passenger could have been infected with the new coronavirus arrived off Cambodia on Thursday, as frustrated holidaymakers expressed hope that their ordeal may soon be over.

The Westerdam was supposed to be taking its 1,455 passengers on a dream 14-day cruise around East Asia, beginning in Hong Kong on Feb 1 and disembarking on Saturday in Yokohama.

But the ship was turned away from Japan, Guam, the Philippines, the island of Taiwan and Thailand over fears of the virus epidemic.

Cruise operator Holland America has insisted there are no cases of COVID-19 on board and Cambodia announced on Wednesday the ship would be able to dock in Sihanoukville, on its southern coast.

By morning, the ship could be seen on the horizon off Sihanoukville, dwarfing the small fishing vessels that usually ply the waters.

"First land sighting from the#Westerdam as the sun rises over Cambodia," passenger Christina Kerby tweeted.

Doctors were conducting health checks for the passengers, said Transport Minister Sun Chanthol, adding that about 20 on board were sick. Their samples will be sent to the Pasteur Institute to test for the virus.

Workers load supplies on the cruise ship Diamond Princess where more than 200 passengers had been tested positive for coronavirus, in Yokohama, Japan, on Wednesday. KIM KYUNG-HOON/REUTERS

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