Diamond Princess evacuee Gay Courter outside the Courters' room at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. Photo: Courtesy Phil Courter

A Florida couple who shared with Asia Times readers their experiences aboard the quarantine cruise ship Diamond Princess docked at Yokohama, before they were evacuated to Texas for a second quarantine, remain concerned that fellow passengers continue to fall ill and die.

Meanwhile, a fourth person died Tuesday in Japan after becoming ill aboard the ship plagued by the coronavirus, a government official said, as authorities unveiled new measures aimed at fighting the outbreak.

The Tokyo resident, a Japanese male passenger in his 80s, tested positive for the coronavirus and died of pneumonia, the ministry official said. Four people who were hospitalized after being taken off the ship have died, a health ministry official said.

Three others, all Japanese, have so far died after becoming sick on the ship. Two were confirmed to have the coronavirus, while the health ministry declined to comment on the diagnosis of the third.

“We would … like to offer our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the passengers who lost their lives,” Phil and Gay Courter said in an email from Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio after they had completed the first of two weeks of additional quarantine. “We were shipmates.”

Gay Courter, 75, is a best-selling novelist, and Phil Courter, 77, an award-winning documentary filmmaker.

The Courters noted they had been part of the evacuation of more than 300 American passengers and crew from the Diamond Princess. It was unclear whether this number included new cases identified among the American evacuees.

The Courters report: “We remain in good health and continue to document this experience for the education of all. While in the US, Covid-19 has infected only a very small number of people, far fewer than this season’s flu for example, we feel it is important to treat this seriously.

“We want to help people better understand the current situation, how testing is actually conducted and the precautions in place when it comes to those potentially exposed.”

The Courters and other quarantined people have received daily temperature checks and screenings and were tested for Covid-19 via a throat or nose swab. They are awaiting the results of this test which can take 3-5 days to process at a CDC lab.

The Courters are expected to complete their 14-day US quarantine at Lackland Air Force Base by March 3 and are considering driving back to Florida versus flying. “After almost a month cooped up in quarantine, the open road holds quite an attraction for us.”

“While it might be every writer’s dream to get locked up with a great story to write, it’s a little harder in real life,” Gay Courter wrote. “We continue to worry about what happened during the flight to the US and whether we and others were exposed.”

It has been reported that 14 US evacuees were confirmed with Covid-19 and, since landing, others have been diagnosed.

“Our thoughts remain with people still on board the Diamond Princess, those in hospitals recovering from Covid-19 and those quarantined far away from home and family. We have heard that several of the crew were diagnosed and we hope for their speedy recovery.”

Meals on wheels for Diamond Princess evacuees at Lackland AFB in Texas. Photo: courtesy Phil Courter

Japan plans

Nearly 700 people who were on board the Diamond Princess have so far tested positive for the virus.

Japan has come under increasing pressure over its handling of the vessel, particularly after it emerged that some passengers allowed to disembark after testing negative were subsequently diagnosed with the virus.

Some of the disembarking passengers were not even tested during their quarantine period, the health ministry has acknowledged.

A female passenger in her 60s who tested negative on board the ship and returned to her house in Tokushima, western Japan, later tested positive, a local government official said late Tuesday.

The woman did not have symptoms but voluntarily took another virus test after returning home and was hospitalized on Wednesday.

Several government officials working on the ship have themselves contracted the infection, but authorities have defended a policy of not uniformly testing those working on the vessel.

“We are aware of the risks of them getting infected when they take off a mask or gloves, so we will have thorough measures to prevent infections under these circumstances,” Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said, while stressing no change in policy was planned.

Many nations have evacuated their citizens from the ship.

About 450 Filipinos flew home late Tuesday on two chartered flights from Tokyo’s Haneda airport, public broadcaster NHK said, adding that 60 other Filipinos who tested positive have been hospitalized in Japan.

About 140 Indians are also set for repatriation if cleared of infection.

Contain the spread

As the situation on the ship has come under scrutiny, infections have spiked inside Japan, with at least 164 cases including one death, the health ministry said late Tuesday.

“We are seeing in several areas in our country the sporadic emergence of patients whose routes of infection remain unclear and there are some clusters of patients,” Kato said.

“Now is a truly important time in order to control infection in Japan.” 

The government unveiled Tuesday various measures intended to slow the spread of the virus, including expanding the number of hospitals that can receive suspected patients and asking people with moderate symptoms to stay at home.

The health minister has already urged people to avoid crowds and unnecessary gatherings. The government is also calling for businesses to encourage teleworking and off-peak commuting.

“We need assistance from businesses and organizations to let people stay away from offices, to avoid rush-hour commuting hours,” Kato said.

Experts are being dispatched to Hokkaido, where the governor has warned he fears a cluster of infections.

On Tuesday, the J-League postponed all football matches until mid-March over the novel coronavirus outbreak, which has affected dozens of sports events worldwide.

But the government has brushed aside worries about the Olympics, which Tokyo hosts this summer.

“We are talking about the situation now,” Kato said when asked about the Games.

The Olympics “is taking place in July, so we are not talking about that situation,” Kato said when asked about the Games. “We are talking about the government’s position now.”