Two elderl former passengers from the coronavirus – wracked Diamond Princess died Thursday , Japanese authorities said , as fears mount for those who have left the ship after testing negative for the virus .
The man and woman, both Japanese and in their 80 s, were taken off the cruise ship last week and died in hospital , the first fatalities among the more than 600 passengers and crew who have tested positive for the virus.
The man had a pre – existing condition of bronchial asthma and a history of angina treatment , the health ministry said in a statement , but the woman had no known pre -existing conditions .
The direct cause of her death was pneumonia.
“I pray for their souls and offer condolences to their bereaved families, ” Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told MPs.
“ The two were sent to medical facilities when they showed symptoms .
I believe that they received the best possible treatment , ” he said .
The huge vessel moored in Yokohama near Tokyo is easily the biggest coronavirus cluster outside the Chinese epicentre , with 621 positive cases confirmed among the passengers and crew.
On Wednesday, 443 passengers disembarked after testing negative for the COVID – 19 virus and not showing symptoms during a 14 – day quarantine period .
The removal of all passengers was expected to take at least three days .
More passengers left the ship Thursday , packing into yellow buses and leaving for stations and airports to head home .
But questions are increasingly being asked as to why former Diamond Princess passengers are able to roam freely around Japan ’ s famously crowded cities , even if they have tested negative .
“ Is it really safe to get off ?” screamed a headline in the Nikkan Sports tabloid .
The paper quoted one passenger who said he was tested on February 15, but only left four days later .
“ I thought I could be infected during the four days . I thought ‘ Is it really OK ’?”
– Quarantine ‘improved’ –
The Diamond Princess was quarantined on February 5 when a passenger who left in Hong Kong was found infected with the virus .
Passengers were confined to cabins except for brief trips on deck wearing masks and gloves , when they were told to keep their distance from others.
But a specialist in infectious diseases at Kobe University rocked the boat with a video slamming “completely chaotic ” quarantine procedures onboard — rare criticism from a Japanese official.
“ The cruise ship was completely inadequate in terms of infection control , ” said Kentaro Iwata in videos he has since deleted , saying “there is no need to discuss this further ”.
The videos had been viewed more than a million times in Japanese and hundreds of thousands of times in English .
Speaking to reporters on Thursday , Iwata said he had heard from a colleague on board that quarantine procedures had improved .
“ I think that because of the improvement , the risk of secondary infection has been reduced for the passengers . It remains for the crews , ” he said .
However , he recommended that all those disembarking the ship should be monitored for at least 14 days and should avoid contact with others.
– ‘Working desperately hard ’ –
Japanese authorities have defended their procedures , stressing that risky and safe areas were strictly divided and there was a station installed for safely removing contaminated gear.
“ We’ ve been doing our best in the circumstances , ” Kato told MPs on Thursday morning.
“ I want you to understand that not only our officials at the health ministry but also Self-Defense Forces officials and medical officials are working desperately hard , ” he added .
The government also released a document from the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) , which pointed to “clear evidence that substantial transmission of COVID – 19 had been occurring prior to implementation of quarantine on Diamond Princess . ”
“ Quarantine intervention was effective in reducing transmission among passengers , ” the report concluded .
The NIID also noted the unique situation faced by Japanese authorities .
“ Due to the nature of the ship , individual isolation of all those aboard was not possible .
Sharing of cabins was necessary , and some crew had to continue to perform essential duties for the functioning of the vessel . ”
The 1 , 045 crew members on board are expected to endure a further 14- day quarantine after the last passenger has disembarked .
Several countries have evacuated their citizens from the ship and insisted they undergo a further 14 – day quarantine when they arrive on home soil.
Outside the Diamond Princess , Japan has seen 84 cases .
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