Passengers depart docked ship after virus quarantine ends

Passengers depart docked ship after virus quarantine ends

Thursday, February 20, 2020

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YOKOHAMA, Japan (AP) — About 500 passengers left the cruise ship Diamond Princess yesterday at the end of a much-criticised two-week quarantine aboard the vessel, docked in Japan, that failed to stop the spread of the new virus among passengers and crew.

The quarantine's flop was underlined as authorities announced 79 more cases, bringing the total on the ship to 621. Results were still pending for some other passengers and crew among the original 3,711 people on board.

Japan's Government has been questioned over its decision to keep people on the ship, which some experts have called a perfect virus incubator. The Diamond Princess is the site of the most infections outside of China, where the illness named COVID-19 emerged late last year.

Many foreign governments say they won't let passengers from the ship return unless they go through another quarantine period, so it was striking to see passengers disembark, get into taxis and disappear into Yokohama, where the ship is docked.

Japanese soldiers helped escort some passengers, including an elderly man in a wheelchair who wore a mask and held a cane. Some passengers got on buses to be transported to train stations. Some people still in their cabins waved farewell from their balconies to those who had already been processed.

“I'm a bit concerned if I'm OK to get off the ship, but it was getting very difficult physically,” a 77-year-old man from Saitama, near Tokyo, who got off with his wife, told Kyodo News. “For now, we just want to celebrate.”

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said initially that those disembarking with negative virus tests have fulfilled the Japanese quarantine requirement and are free to walk out and go home on public transportation. He said passengers were only asked to watch their health carefully for a few days and notify local health authorities if they have any symptoms or worries.

But after meeting with experts later in the day, he urged the former passengers to refrain from non-essential outings and try to stay home for about two weeks.

“COVID-19 is not 100 per cent known, and a lot of people got infected on the Diamond Princess. Taking those factors into consideration, we believe taking extra caution will contribute to preventing the risk of future infections,” he said.

Some passengers said on Twitter they received health forms in the morning asking if they had symptoms such as a headache, fever or coughing. Passengers who tested negative and had no symptoms still had to get their body temperature checked before leaving.

Passengers were provided with a certificate stating their negative test results and completion of the quarantine.

Still, Masao Sumida, a 84-year-old passenger from Chiba, near Tokyo, told NHK television he is worried people around him may have doubts. “I know I tested negative, but I'm afraid people may try to stay away from me,” he said.


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