A bus with curtains drawn, probably the means of transport of passengers permitted to leave the quarantined ship on Tuesday, is shown attached by a makeshift passageway to the cruise ship Diamond Princess at the Yokohama docks. Photo courtesy of Phil Courter

As authorities announced 39 additional cases of coronavirus among passengers and crew on the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess, some passengers were speculating that quarantine policy is pivoting “from shelter-in-place to triage.”

“Between the lines,” American passenger Phil Courter told Asia Times in an email, “the authorities have admitted that it is not possible to preserve safe quarantine on the Diamond Princess.  Their strategy has now shifted from containment to rescue. This pivot is both a welcome change and a gut-wrenching admission.”

The Japanese news organization Nikkei had reported: “Given health concerns, the ministry has decided to let some of these passengers, who face especially high health risks from a coronavirus infection, disembark starting Tuesday. They will be accommodated at medical institutions or elsewhere.”

Perhaps referring partly to that hint or to expert medical advice quoted by the Washington Post, Courter added, “We are pleased about the suggestion that more and more passengers will be removed from harm’s way. The authorities started with those with the highest risk of mortality, and appear to be reaching out to the next most vulnerable.”

The blue and green truck with hose hooked up from the Diamond Princess cruise ship is from a company that specializes in hauling away ‘industrial waste.’ Photo courtesy of Phil Courter

Authorities “have prioritized evacuation over a planned excursion to generate fresh water,” said Courter, who has been campaigning for release. “We predict that they will proceed with organized evacuations in phases based on such risk calculations, although we trust other governments will put boots on the ground, securing release of their citizens early.”

The 77-year-old Floridian, traveling with his wife and fellow documentary filmmaker Gay Courter, 75, added: “Triage protocols demonstrate that everyone on board is at risk of infection. If there was a provable negligible risk of infection, why delay operations to release individuals in a special category? Did new information cause the authorities to change their mind, or did they know it was a bad idea all along?”

His email concluded: “Medical science had strong evidence on the 7th that standard hospital quarantine efforts were failing.”

A menu includes handwritten words of appreciation to the staff from the Courters. Photo courtesy of Phil Courter

Health minister speaks

The announcement that an additional 39 people on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship have tested positive for the new coronavirus came Wednesday from Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato, AFP reported. The new number brought the total to 174.

“Out of 53 new test results, 39 people were found positive,” he told reporters, adding that a quarantine official had also been infected with the virus.

The ship’s captain in an announcement over the vessel’s audio system, according to Phil Courter, had given the number of newly discovered passengers as 38. Perhaps the health minister’s mention of an infected quarantine official offers an explanation for the discrepancy: 38 passengers, one quarantine official.

The minister added: “At this point, we have confirmed that four people, among those who are hospitalized, are in a serious condition, either on a ventilator or in an intensive care unit.”

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

When the boat arrived off Japan, authorities initially tested nearly 300 people of the 3,711 aboard for the virus, gradually evacuating dozens who were infected to local medical facilities.

In recent days, testing has expanded to those with new symptoms or who had close contact with other infected passengers or crew.

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

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

The ship has been expected to stay in quarantine until February 19 – 14 days after the isolation period began.

– With reporting by AFP

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