Japan on Sunday confirmed that a woman who tested negative and disembarked from the coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship later tested positive, raising questions about the effectiveness of the quarantine measures.
The woman in her 60s returned to her home in Tochigi prefecture north of Tokyo by train after she disembarked on Wednesday, but she had a fever on Friday and tested positive on Saturday. She was the first passenger from the ship to have tested positive in Japan after having been cleared to disembark.
Japanese authorities have said they made a decision to disembark passengers who tested negative during the quarantine period as they took measures to prevent spread of the virus. However, infectious diseases specialist Kentaro Iwata has said the situation on the ship was “completely chaotic” and violated quarantine procedures.
Since Wednesday, about 970 passengers who tested negative after the government put the ship under quarantine on February 5 have disembarked. On Saturday, around 100 more passengers who had reportedly been in close contact with infected people on board were allowed to get off.
They included the last group of Japanese passengers while some foreign passengers were still waiting on board for their governments to send chartered aircraft. With the latest disembarkation, a 14-day quarantine is expected to start for more than 1,000 crew still on board. Many of them were not placed in isolation as they were needed to keep the ship running preparing food and delivering meals to cabins.
Critics have charged that they were inadvertently spreading the virus throughout the ship, which has seen more than 600 cases of the potentially deadly COVID-19 disease. Kato defended Japan’s on-board quarantine, telling a TV programme Saturday there was no medical facility large enough to admit more than 3,000 people at once.