The Diamond Princess cruise ship, top centre, is seen off the port of Yokohama, Japan, on February 5 2020. Picture: AFP/KAZUHIRO NOGI
The Diamond Princess cruise ship, top centre, is seen off the port of Yokohama, Japan, on February 5 2020. Picture: AFP/KAZUHIRO NOGI

Tokyo — About 3,700 people are facing at least two weeks locked away on a cruise liner anchored off Japan after health officials confirmed on Wednesday that 10 people on the ship had tested positive for coronavirus and more cases are possible.

As the infected patients were transferred by Japan’s coast guard to hospitals on the mainland, the remainder of the passengers and crew on board the Carnival ship were placed in quarantine.

“I want to take sufficient care of the health of passengers and crew and make every effort to prevent the spread of the virus,” Japan health minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters in Tokyo.

The decision means that passengers on Carnival’s Diamond Princess, who had embarked for a planned eight-day round trip that was due begin on Tuesday, will instead spend at least 14 days off Yokohama port near Tokyo.

Passengers on the ship took to social media to detail their predicament, posting photos of officials in masks and gowns conducting health checks, room service meals, empty corridors, and a barren deck.

British passenger David Abel said all passengers were confined to their cabins on Wednesday morning, with staff delivering food room-by-room. “The challenging situation for me is that I’m an insulin-dependent diabetic,” Abel said in a video taken in his cabin and posted to his Facebook page, adding that regular and timed food intake was a key part of managing his condition.

“We don’t have a choice in what we can eat; the announcement recently was that they’re starting on the bottom deck and working their way up — I’m on the ninth deck. This is not a good situation for me as a diabetic and I’m certain that there are many, many more diabetics on the ship.”

Another passenger tweeted that he was “hearing from many sides that people are troubled and uneasy”.

The cruise ship was caught up in the global coronavirus epidemic after a Hong Kong man who sailed on the vessel last month tested positive for the virus. The man disembarked in Kagoshima in Japan’s southern island of Kyushu on January 22, where he joined a bus tour, local media reported.

Everyone on board on the ship since Monday has received initial health screening, Kato said on Wednesday, a process that identified 273 people for testing. Of that smaller group, 31 results had been received so far, revealing the 10 confirmed cases.

Kato said that officials will continue to monitor the remaining passengers and crew for the potential development of symptoms, suggesting that more test samples could be taken.

None of the 10 infected people — three each from Japan and Hong Kong, two Australians, one American and one Filipino crew member — had severe symptoms, public broadcaster NHK reported.

Free trip

In an effort to soothe quarantined passengers, Carnival’s Princess Cruises said they would receive free internet and phone services “to stay in contact with their family and loved ones, and the ship’s crew is working to keep all guests comfortable”.

The ship would go out to sea to perform “normal marine operations”, it added, including the production of fresh water, before receiving food and other supplies from Yokohama.

Carnival, which has cancelled another two cruises due to depart from Japan this week, said that passengers on the Diamond Princess would receive both a full refund and a future cruise credit.

Not all passengers were overly concerned about the major change to the itinerary. American Ashley Rhodes-Courter posted a text message exchange on Instagram with her parents, Gay and Phil Courter, who are on board the ship. The couple joked that “the food is great, the staff is in good spirits and we’re all in the same boat ... Plus they have not run out of some great Pinot Noir.” 


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