Victory has come at last after 10 days to elderly passengers aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, who had campaigned for transfers to on-shore quarantine to escape a vessel they suspected to be an incubator of the disease now formally named Covid-19.
After announcing on Thursday that tests revealed 44 additional cases on the ship who tested positive for the coronavirus, Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said aged passengers who tested negative would be taken ashore.
“We wish to start the operation from tomorrow or later,” Kato told journalists, saying the government would designate on-shore housing where those still not showing infections could stay pending diagnosis or for the remainder of their quarantine.
‘Turn that ship around’
A couple who had been in the forefront of the argument for that approach, documentary filmmakers Phil and Gay Courter, were celebrating the victory with a different view from their cabin after the ship was turned around on Wednesday, their son Blake said in an email.
“Mom and Dad are enjoying the new view of a bridge,” he said. “Their friends are enjoying finally watching the hubbub of loading and unloading” on the Yokohama docks.
In some cases, watching unloading has not been reassuring. One photo the Courter couple sent to Asia Times showed tanker trucks hooked up by hose from the ship, one of whose visible markings identified it as coming from an industrial waste-hauling company in nearby Kawasaki.
Blake Coulter expressed concern, asking: “Are we sure sewage is not a vector?”
The Courter’s son relayed the announcement of the new approach by the ship’s captain, whom he quoted as saying to passengers: “Thank you for your continued perseverance and patience as we navigate this unique event together.”
“Well said,” Blake Courter remarked, noting that “the Courter family supports the triage approach and removing anyone possible from the boat, especially crew, as diluting the concentration of illness makes everyone on board safer.”
Apparently the new approach had already been tried out earlier in the week. The Courters had sent photos they’d taken, showing a bus and some cars that took some passengers away. Those almost certainly would not have been active cases, who have been removed by ambulance.
“I have not been able to find firm numbers for how many presumed healthy passengers have been brought off the ship,” Blake Courter emailed on Wednesday. “Yesterday, there were two buses and several cars. Today, we are hearing three buses. Let’s estimate 40 passengers per bus and 20 for the cars yesterday – perhaps that about 10% of the boat is released.”
Another member of the Courter family created a graph comparing diagnoses of the virus and estimated departures by those who had tested negative:
Agence France Presse reported that Health Minister Kato said the 44 new cases were from another 221 new tests. They raised the number of infections detected on the Diamond Princess to 218, in addition to a quarantine officer who also tested positive for the virus.
The Diamond Princess has been moored off Japan since February 3, after it emerged that a former passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong last month had tested positive for the virus now named COVID-19.
The ship was placed into quarantine shortly afterwards and authorities asked passengers and crew to remain on board until February 19.
Those who have tested positive for the new virus have been taken off the ship to medical facilities, but questions have been raised about whether the quarantine on the ship is working, with the dozens of new cases diagnosed almost daily.
Passengers have been confined to cabins and required to wear masks and keep their distance from each other when they are allowed out for brief periods on open decks.
– With reporting by AFP