New coronavirus cases make Princess cruise ship the largest infection center outside China

Japan confirmed 41 more cases of the new coronavirus aboard a quarantined cruise ship, and denied entry to another vessel as it sought to control the spread of the deadly infection, with thousands now stranded on stricken luxury liners.

The results bring to 61 the tally of infections among 273 passengers and crew so far tested aboard the Diamond Princess, which is being kept in isolation at the port of Yokohama and is the biggest center of infection of any place outside of China.

Japan’s Ministry of Defense said Thursday it would send Self-Defense Forces medical personnel to help out with treatment on the ship, and bring alongside a commercial passenger vessel to act as a temporary base. Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said he was considering testing other elderly and vulnerable people among the roughly 3,700 people aboard.

Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said one of those infected on the ship was now confirmed to be in serious condition, while Twitter users who said they were aboard the vessel expressed increasing concern. China’s mainland has been the hardest hit with infections climbing to more than 31,000 while the death toll was at 636 people.

The developments have delivered a fresh blow for Diamond Princess owner, Carnival Corp., and other cruise companies which are being forced to cancel trips heading into the peak booking season for vacations at sea. Japan is also anxious to avoid any damage to its image as an increasingly popular tourist destination as it prepares to host the Summer Olympics this year in Tokyo.

Japan has banned a separate cruise ship — the Westerdam — from berthing at a port in the country, saying a person on the vessel was suspected to have contracted the virus.

Cruise operator Holland America, part of Carnival Corp., said earlier there were no known cases of the novel coronavirus aboard the Westerdam and the ship was not in quarantine. The vessel is currently off Ishigaki — one of Japan’s most southerly islands — and Holland America said it was trying to make alternative plans for its passengers.

A third cruise liner, carrying about 3,600 passengers and crew, is also being held off Hong Kong after three people who had previously traveled on it were diagnosed with the new virus.

Health Minister Kato said the World Health Organization would not count the 61 cruise ship passengers and crew as being infected in Japan. Twenty-five people in Japan have been confirmed as having been infected with the disease, most of them having spent time in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak.

Nevertheless, the growing number of cases has raised questions about Japan’s capacity to cope with the outbreak. The 41 newly diagnosed cruise ship passengers are set to be transported to hospitals in Tokyo and surrounding areas, Kato said.

Meanwhile, emotions are running increasingly high on board all three stranded vessels.

“This was supposed to be a big bucket list trip for my wife and I that has now turned into a logistical nightmare and potentially put our health at risk,” Stephen Hansen, a retiree from Vancouver who said he was aboard the Westerdam, wrote in an e-mail.

“Our biggest concern is what will happen once we are accepted into some port—probably Guam. We are Canadian citizens so don’t know what our status will be. Will we be quarantined? Will we be deported? Who knows?”

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