TOKYO: Japan's health minister apologised on Saturday (Feb 22) after a woman who was allowed to leave a coronavirus-infected cruise ship docked near Tokyo tested positive for the virus.
The woman in her 60s disembarked the Diamond Princess in Yokohama on Wednesday following a two-week quarantine on board, but was found to be positive following another test in Tochigi Prefecture, north of Tokyo.
Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told a news conference in Tokyo on Saturday evening that 23 people who had disembarked on Wednesday and Thursday had not undergone tests since before Feb 5, and the ministry was trying to reach them for retesting.
READ: COVID-19: 100 passengers in close contact with infected leave Diamond Princess cruise ship
"We deeply apologise for the situation caused by our oversight," Kato said. "We will take all necessary measures, like double checks, to prevent a recurrence."
Japan's government is facing growing questions about whether it is doing enough to stop the spread of the coronavirus that originated in China and has killed more than 2,400 as Tokyo prepares to host the 2020 Summer Olympics in July.
"There has been a judgement that those who disembarked after testing negative had no problem, but it has now become clear that those people can turn positive," Tochigi governor Tomokazu Fukuda told a press conference late Saturday.
"We call on the government to take additional measures," he said.
The cruise ship, owned by Carnival Corp, and carrying some 3,700 passengers and crew, has been quarantined in Yokohama since Feb 3.
Since Wednesday, about 970 passengers - who tested negative after the government put the ship under quarantine on February 5 - have disembarked, according to local media.
READ: Quarantine nightmare still not over for left-behind Diamond Princess cruise ship crew
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.
US TRAVEL ADVISORY
The US State Department raised its travel advisory for Japan to Level 2 on its four-notch scale on Saturday because of what it termed "sustained community spread."
The number of confirmed domestic cases grew to 132 after the health ministry said on Saturday it had confirmed 27 new cases of the flu-like illness.
That is separate from the more than 600 cases from the Diamond Princess, the biggest concentration of infections outside China.
Among the new cases on Saturday was a boy under 10 years old in the northern prefecture of Hokkaido, and also a teacher in Chiba Prefecture east of Tokyo who had gone to school while she had symptoms.
Children had been thought to possibly be less vulnerable to the new virus, with far fewer reported infections in much younger people.