Japanese health officials are now allowing some “medically vulnerable” passengers who have been quarantined on the Diamond Princess to leave the ship and be isolated on land, said Carnival’s Princess Cruises on Thursday.
The passengers will engage in a “voluntary disembarkation” over the next several days while being overseen by Japanese health officials, according to a statement from Princess Cruises. They will then be able to complete their quarantine at a facility near the shore, the company said.
The guests who will leave are “the most medically vulnerable guests in the first phase, including older adults with preexisting health conditions,” said the company. These guests will be tested for coronavirus, known officially as COVID-19, and if a positive test is confirmed, they will be taken to a local hospital for more treatment and isolation.
In elaborating on the offshore housing, Princess said they include individual rooms and bathrooms. No medical clinics are onsite.
“The food available will not accommodate dietary preferences but will accommodate certain medical conditions. The meals provided will be Japanese bento-style boxes. No Western meals will be available,” according to the cruise operator.
On Thursday, Japanese health workers confirmed 44 new cases of COVID-19 on the cruise ship, bringing the total to 218. The ship entered the Yokohama port on Feb. 3 and was quarantined for a two-week period.
The ship is still carrying about 3,500 people on board, which includes passengers and crew. Outside of China, the Diamond Princess has the largest cluster of COVID-19 infections in the world.
“On the ship, infections are getting very dense,” Shigeru Omi, an infectious disease prevention expert who had worked for the World Health Organization, told The Associated Press. “It’s like we are seeing a very condensed version of what could happen in a local community.”
It is believed that tens of thousands of people inside China have been infected with the virus, which has triggered lockdowns in dozens of cities across the country. Chinese netizens and citizen journalists have faulted the ruling Chinese Communist Party for what they say is a censorship campaign on the real scope of the COVID-19 outbreak.
At the same time, netizens expressed outrage when a doctor died after he was detained by CCP officials following his attempt to report on the severity of the outbreak. A prisoner of conscience who practices Falun Gong meditation was also arrested and tortured before losing consciousness, and later sent to a virus quarantine, according to a report, which added that CCP officials did so in order to cover their abuse.
Numerous countries, including the United States, have implemented travel restrictions on people coming from China so as to curb the spread of the disease.
So far in the United States at least 15 cases have been confirmed in California, Texas, Arizona, Washington state, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Wisconsin.
The latest COVID-19 case, located at a military base in Texas, was confirmed by Centers for Disease Control officials on Thursday. The patient was being held with others in medical isolation at JBSA-Lackland base near San Antonio after a recent trip to Hubei province, China, which is the epicenter of the outbreak.