Two elderly Japanese citizens who were on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship died on February 20 at the local hospital where they were being treated in the past week for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
“They were sent to medical facilities when they showed symptoms. I believe they received the best possible treatment,” said Health Minister Katsunobu Kato. They were believed to have had underlying diseases prior to contracting the virus.
As many as 621 people on board the Diamond Princess are confirmed to have been infected by the coronavirus, which is the biggest cluster of coronavirus outbreak outside of China. All 3,700 people in the ship were quarantined for two weeks at sea after docking in Yokohama on February 4, after 10 people on board were confirmed of having contracted the coronavirus.
Those who tested negative for the coronavirus were allowed to leave the ship beginning February 19. Hundreds have started to make their way home.
The president and CEO of the ship’s operator Princess Cruises, Jan Swartz, has called the crisis an “unprecedented situation.” “Nobody going on vacation thinks that they’re going to be notified in the last days that they’ve got an extension … and they’re not going to be allowed to leave their cabins,” she told CNN.
Japan under fire for handling of situation
Some health experts who visited the Diamond Princess have claimed that the situation on board was “completely chaotic.” Japanese health expert Professor Kentaro Iwata and professor at the Infectious Diseases Department of Japan’s Kobe University said that the cruise ship was completely unprepared and inadequate to handle an infection outbreak, in a YouTube video that has reportedly been taken down.
“There is no distinction between the green zone which is free of infection and the red zone which is potentially contaminated by virus,” Iwata said in the video which has been shared by other YouTube accounts.
Criticism as Japan authorities hit back
Japan’s health minister responded to Iwata’s criticism on February 20, insisting that the sections of the ship had been “properly managed”, referring to the ‘green’ and ‘red’ zones.
After Iwata’s online testimony gained thousands of views, many others agreed that Japan had let their bureaucracy take precedence, instead of letting infectious disease experts manage the situation. “It was entirely bureaucrats running the show. There were no procedures. He [Iwata] has treated people in Ebola, in Africa, in SARS, in China, in cholera. He knows how to protect people and protect himself, he’s never been scared before. He says he was scared of the conditions on board that ship,” said Simon Denyer, the Washington Post bureau chief in Tokyo.