Thousands of passengers and crew members aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship from Princess Cruises have been quarantined off the coast Yokohama, Japan, a port city just south of Tokyo, after an elderly male passenger from Hong Kong tested positive for the coronavirus, the cruise line confirmed.
The deadly coronavirus, which was first identified in Wuhan, China, has claimed the lives of at least 361 people in China, with 153 cases confirmed across 23 countries outside China, according to the latest report by the World Health Organization. Last week, the virus was officially declared a global public health emergency by WHO, with nearly 17,400 cases confirmed globally so far.
The ship’s 2,666 guests and 1,045 staff members are undergoing medical checks by local health officials who are examining their temperature and medical condition, Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare confirmed in a statement.
Speaking to Newsweek, a spokesperson for Princess Cruises confirmed that the infected passenger traveled for five days on the Diamond Princess from Yokohama on January 20 and disembarked on January 25 in Hong Kong, where he tested positive for the coronavirus on February 1, six days after leaving the ship.
“He [the infected passenger] was not seen in the ship medical centre for any reported illnesses during the voyage. The guest has been admitted to a local hospital and is reported to be in a stable condition,” the spokesperson said.
The 80-year-old passenger was reported to have flown into Japan from China on January 17 and had been in mainland China for “a few hours,” according to a statement from the Hong Kong government. The man was said to have developed a cough two days later, before he boarded the cruise ship in Yokohama, Hong Kong officials confirmed, CNN reports.
At least seven or eight people on board have reported symptoms of being ill, such as having a fever, according to Yoshihide Suga, the Japanese government’s chief cabinet secretary.
Passengers are expected to remain on board the ship at least through Tuesday night while the checks are being done. A decision on whether to allow the ship to dock into the port and allow passengers to disembark will be made after those who showed symptoms of being ill have been tested for the virus, Suga confirmed, The Japan Times reports.
Around 70 percent of the medical checks were said to have been completed and most on board facilities, except for the casino, shops and photo studio, have resumed normal operations, Reuters reports. The results of the tests checking for the virus, which reportedly will take around four to five hours to complete, have yet to be made public.
The Diamond Princess was due to depart Yokohama today for an eight-day roundtrip cruise, but that has now been canceled “to help facilitate the health screening and records review process by the local authorities,” Princess Cruises told Newsweek.
“We fully appreciate this decision will be disappointing but the safety, security and well-being of our guests, crew and the places we visit are our absolute priority. All guests will receive a full refund and a one hundred percent future cruise credit.
“We are working with the relevant health authorities to determine the further action required and will provide updates as soon as we have more information,” the spokesperson added.
Japan has confirmed at least 20 cases of the virus, 17 of these patients had traveled to Wuhan. This past Saturday, Japan banned the entry of any foreign nationals who have traveled to the Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, in the last 14 days. As of February 3, eight foreigners were reported to have been refused entry to Japan, Reuters reports.
Last week, the Japanese government officially classified the coronavirus as a designated infectious disease and raised its travel warning level, advising its citizens to avoid any trips to Hubei and any non-urgent trips to the rest of China.
Last week, around 6,000 people were quarantined on board a cruise ship in the Italian port of Civitavecchia, about 44 miles northwest of Rome, after two passengers were suspected of having the coronavirus.