Japanese authorities on Thursday confirmed the first death in the country from the new coronavirus that originated in China.
The victim was a Japanese woman in her 80s.
Test results came back as positive after her death, Heath Minister Katsunobu Kato said at a press conference in Kyodo, according to The Japan Times.
Kato told reporters that the woman was being treated at a hospital near Tokyo since early February after showing symptoms of the new virus, known as COVID-19.
The woman is the country’s first confirmed fatality and the second reported outside of China. The first took place in the Philippines. That person was a 44-year-old Chinese man from Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus.
China has reported tens of thousands of cases and hundreds of deaths. Many experts and public health officials believe the number is higher than the Chinese Communist Party is reporting.
Forty-four new cases, meanwhile, were confirmed among the passengers on a cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan, Princess Cruises confirmed in a statement. The Diamond Princess ship now has 218 cases out of 713 people tested since it entered port on Feb. 3, by far the largest cluster of infections outside of China. There are some 3,700 people on board.
Princess Cruises said that Japanese health officials are planning to let people complete the two-week quarantine at a facility on land.
The passengers will be tested for the virus and if it’s positive they’ll be taken to a local hospital. If it’s negative, they’ll be told they can leave the ship for transport to a housing facility to finish the quarantine period. The facility includes private rooms and bathrooms with Japanese bento-style boxes for meals.
“From the information available it is our understanding that this will be a phased approach, with the most medically vulnerable guests in the first phase, including older adults with preexisting health conditions,” Princess Cruises stated.
Kato said five of the patients sent to hospitals earlier have severe symptoms and are on artificial respirators or under intensive care.
He said the government has decided to allow passengers older than 80 to get off the ship after testing negative for the virus. He said results of tests on about 200 eligible passengers are underway, and those with chronic health problems or in cabins without operable windows will be given priority.
Some experts have questioned Japan’s strategy of isolating the passengers and crew in a potentially virus-affected environment on the ship while the disease is already slowly making its way into the country.
“On the ship, infections are getting very dense,” said Shigeru Omi, an infectious disease prevention expert and former regional director for the World Health Organization. “It’s like we are seeing a very condensed version of what could happen in a local community.”
Omi, who currently heads the Japan Community Health Care Organization, said those people who have tested positive for the virus are “only a fraction” of what could already be spreading outside of the ship. “We should assume that the virus has already been spreading in Japan,” he said.
In all, Japan has 247 confirmed cases of the new disease.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.