Military vehicles manned by camouflage-clad, helmeted personnel appeared on the Yokohama docks beside the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess. Photo courtesy of ship's passenger Phil Courter

The contagious coronavirus has not died out on a quarantined cruise ship moored off Japan – far from it.

AFP and other news agencies reported Monday afternoon that around 60 more people on board the Diamond Princess have been diagnosed with novel coronavirus, attributing the report to national broadcaster NHK. Other local media also reported approximately 60 more cases had been confirmed, raising the number of infected passengers and crew to around 130. A passenger, Gay Courter, told Asia Times via Facebook Messenger that the number is 65, according to the ship’s captain.

Courter’s husband Phil photographed trucks with the colors and markings of the military parked at dockside, surrounded by camouflage-clad men wearing helmets and combat boots, but there was no immediate explanation for their presence.

Quarantined passengers look out from their cabin balconies on the Diamond Princess, at the Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama port on Monday. The man with the phone / camera may be Phil Courter. Photo: AFP / Charly Triballeu

AFP reported that Health Ministry officials declined immediate comment on the new number.

The Health Ministry did say Monday that around 600 people on board urgently needed medication, and around half received supplies over the weekend.

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters that discussions were ongoing about how to increase testing capacity and also whether testing would take place after passengers are released from quarantine.

The World Health Organization confirmed in a tweet that newly diagnosed cases on the ship should not extend the length of the quarantine.

“The quarantine period of the #DiamondPrincess will come to an end on 19 February,” the WHO said in a tweet.

“The period will be extended beyond the 19 Feb as appropriate only for close contacts of newly confirmed cases. They need to remain in quarantine for 14 days from last contact with a confirmed case.”

The Diamond Princess has been in quarantine since arriving off the Japanese coast early last week after the new virus was detected in a former passenger who got off the ship last month in Hong Kong.

When the vessel arrived off Japan, authorities initially tested nearly 300 people of the 3,711 on board for the virus, gradually evacuating dozens who tested positive to local medical facilities.

In recent days, testing has expanded to those who had close contact with other infected passengers or crew, and several more cases were reported over the weekend.

Those who remain on the ship have been asked to stay inside their cabins and allowed out only briefly onto open decks.

They have been asked to wear masks and keep a distance from one another when outside, and given thermometers to regularly monitor their temperatures.

The ship is expected to stay in quarantine until February 19 – which will be 14 days after the isolation period began.

The quarantine has made life on board the ship difficult, particularly for those in windowless interior cabins and for a significant number of passengers who require medication for various chronic conditions.

Sunday’s ration to quarantined passengers Gay and Phil Courter of protective and diagnostic supplies. Photo: Courtesy of Phil Courter

Worries about ventilation system

Quarantined passengers Gay and Phil Courter from Florida, the focus of an earlier Asia Times article, reported by email that officials continue to prevent passengers from disembarking but there is concern that:

  • “The ship’s ventilation system is not designed to prevent transmission of the coronavirus.”
  • “The crew members (responsible for distributing meals to passengers in their quarters) are not trained in quarantine procedures and may also be incubating the virus.”
  • “Lack of appropriate sanitation may create other issues on board.”

The Courters are “currently in good health but are increasingly worried about the future,” their son Blake reported.

“We are talking about our mortality and what our chances are of getting the virus,” he quoted his mother as saying. “Our biggest fear right now, besides getting sick, is that we will be separated if one of us gets ill.”

– With reporting by AFP

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