Coronavirus is spreading rapidly on the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off the coast of Japan — with 44 more people diagnosed with the infectious disease, authorities confirmed Thursday.
A total of 218 people are confirmed infected on the ship, out of the 713 people tested since it entered Yokohama Port on Feb. 3 — making the outbreak the largest cluster of infections outside China, Japan’s health minister Katsunobu Kato confirmed Thursday.
The Diamond Princess is still carrying about 3,500 people — passengers cooped up in their cabins, and workers who tend to them.
The government has decided to allow passengers over 80 years old to disembark from the ship if they test negative for the virus, according to Kato. Test results on about 200 eligible passengers are pending, and travelers with chronic health problems or in cabins with non-working windows will be given priority.
The released passengers will be required to remain at a designated facility through the end of the quarantine period, Kato said at a news conference.
“We are doing our utmost for the health of crew members and passengers who remain on the ship,” the official told reporters.
But some experts say that Japan’s decision to isolate the passengers and crew might be causing more harm than good.
“On the ship, infections are getting very dense,” Shigeru Omi, an infectious disease prevention expert and former regional director for the World Health Organization, told the Associated Press. “It’s like we are seeing a very condensed version of what could happen in a local community.”
In total, 247 cases of the new disease — known officially as COVID-19 — have been confirmed in Japan.
Five patients previously sent to the country’s hospitals are suffering from severe symptoms and have been placed on artificial respirators or under intensive care, Kato said.
Worldwide, more than 60,000 people have been sickened by the disease and at least 1,357 have died, according to reports.
Nearly 15,000 cases and 242 deaths were reported Wednesday in China’s Hubei province alone — the outbreak’s epicenter.
With Post wires