TOKYO: At least 10 passengers on a cruise ship that Japan quarantined tested positive for the new coronavirus, the Japanese health minister said on Wednesday (Feb 5).
Japan has quarantined the vessel carrying 3,711 people and was testing those onboard the Diamond Princess for the virus after a former passenger was diagnosed with the illness in Hong Kong.
Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters that specimens from more than 200 people were collected.
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"From around 7.30am (2230 GMT Tuesday), we had them (the 10 who tested positive) get off the vessel, and with cooperation with the coastguard we are sending them to medical organisations," he said.
Health screening began on Tuesday for the passengers and crew after the Hong Kong passenger who sailed on the vessel last month tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
The 80-year-old man flew to Japan and boarded the ship run by Carnival Japan in Yokohama on Jan 20 and disembarked in Hong Kong on Jan 25, the company said.
Operator Princess Cruise Lines said around half the passengers on board the ship are Japanese but there were no immediate details on the nationalities of the other travellers.
Of the 10 who tested positive, three are Japanese, three from Hong Kong, two Australian, one American and one Filipino crew member, the operator said.
One Japanese man in his 70s told public broadcaster NHK that stricter quarantine measures came into force on Wednesday.
"Until yesterday, we were able to spend time in common spaces and do things like play ping-pong. But from this morning, we have not been allowed to go out of our rooms," said the man, who declined to be identified.
"I tried to go to a restaurant this morning for breakfast but I was told: 'Please eat in your room.' So I have been waiting for room service. But it hasn't arrived yet."
Kato appealed for the passengers and crew, who come from 56 countries, to cooperate with authorities, and said he assumed the quarantine would last around 14 days - the estimated maximum incubation period for the virus.
One passenger said they will be confined to their cabins for the next two weeks.
David Able, who is on the cruise with his wife celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, told APTN the situation "changed dramatically" overnight with passengers being told they could not leave their rooms.
"We are quite fortunate that we have got a cabin with a balcony so we can open the door, get fresh air, if it's sunny, sit on the balcony," Able said.
"The people I feel really sorry for are those with inside cabins who've got no natural light, no fresh air. It's going to be pretty grim for them for two weeks," he added.
Japan was also preparing to expand the scope of its screening for the virus, and test criteria after initial tests failed to detect the virus in some people who were later found to be infected, the health minister told reporters.
Previously, the country had 20 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 17 of them having been in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the epidemic began.
Japan on Saturday began refusing entry to foreigners who have been in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, in the past 14 days as well as people with passports issued in Hubei province.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said he believed Japan's current restrictions on entry were appropriate, when asked at a news conference.
Suga said that as of Feb 3, eight foreigners had been barred from entering Japan.
Some countries including the United States and Australia have denied entry to all foreign nationals travelling from China.