Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Passengers leave Japan virus ship

Passengers leave Japan virus ship

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The passengers were removed in city of Yokohama buses. AFP

Passengers leave Japan virus ship

Hundreds of relieved passengers finally disembarked a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship in Japan on Wednesday after testing negative for the disease that has now claimed more than 2,000 lives in China and spread panic worldwide.

With 542 positive cases, the Diamond Princess is easily the biggest cluster outside China, and Japan has faced mounting criticism for its quarantine arrangements as the passengers disperse into the wider world.

“I’m relieved … I want to take a good rest,” said a 77-year-old Japanese passenger, who declined to give his name. He said he would be boarding Japan’s famously crowded railway system home.

A fleet of yellow-dotted city buses, plus a dozen or so taxis, whisked away the passengers, many of whom dragged their luggage behind them and waved to former ship-mates on balconies as they disembarked.

Fresh figures from China showed the death toll surging beyond 2,000 with more than 74,000 infected, although the rate of new cases continued to slow.

Hundreds more cases have been reported in two dozen countries, including 15 in South Korea – a 50 per cent rise – with a cluster of at least 11 around the southern city of Daegu.

Hong Kong also reported its second death from the virus, which has proved extremely infectious.

For the 500 passengers disembarking the Diamond Princess after testing negative, a difficult 14-day quarantine period has come to an end after their dream cruise turned into a nightmare of fear and boredom confined in many cases to small windowless cabins.

“Our last deep gratitude to the crew and captain for such amazing care . . . during the epic crisis . . . we can’t wait to see you again soon on board again,” tweeted passenger Yardley Wong, who left after 14 days cooped in a small cabin with her six-year-old son.

Many were left onboard with an anxious wait for test results that would allow them to disembark.

Asked how he felt seeing others disembark while remaining on the ship, US lawyer Matt Smith said: “I need an emoji for envy.”

Michael Ryan, head of WHO’s health emergencies programme, said the outbreak was “very serious” and could grow, but stressed that outside China’s Hubei, it was “affecting a very, very tiny, tiny proportion of people.”

But in Japan, some have raised concerns about allowing people from the cruise ship to board flights home or spread out into the notoriously busy Japanese capital.

Kentaro Iwata, a professor at the infectious diseases division of Kobe University, blasted the on-ship quarantine as a “major failure, a mistake”.

“It is highly likely secondary infections occurred,” Iwata said, adding scepticism from abroad of the quarantine was “only natural”.

He later said in a video published online that he was self-quarantining after a brief visit to the ship where he raised major concerns about the procedures on board.

“It was completely chaotic,” he said.

Elated passengers also began disembarking from a second cruise ship that has been at the centre of coronavirus fear, the MS Westerdam, which made shore in Sihanoukville in Cambodia.

Hundreds were departing after receiving a clean bill of health, as Prime Minister Hun Sen greeted the first passengers with hugs and flowers.

American Christina Kirby, fretted about the stigma some MS Westerdam passengers could face once they return home. “I want people to remember that . . . there’s a human behind each of these stories and those who are ill deserve compassion,” she said.

Several countries appear to have lost patience with the quarantine on board the Diamond Princess and chartered planes to repatriate citizens.

In the first such evacuation Monday, more than 300 Americans flew home even though 14 had tested positive.

Britain, Hong Kong and Australia are among other countries that have vowed to repatriate people from the ship but will insist on a further 14-day quarantine on home soil.

Nathalie MacDermott, a medical expert at King’s College London, recommended a further 14-day self-quarantine for those leaving.

“Given the circumstances on board the Diamond Princess, those passengers leaving the boat should be managed in a similar manner to those individuals departing a highly affected city or region,” said MacDermott.

South Korea vowed to block foreigners who have been on board the Diamond Princess from entering the country.

Disembarkation is expected to take around three days as more test results become available. The crew will begin a new quarantine when the last passenger has left.

People in Yokohama appeared supportive of the decision to allow the passengers out despite the virus fears.

“I am sure those people on board must be really worried. I hope they can go back to their normal life soon,” said 51-year-old Isamu Habiro. “As a Yokohama resident, I don’t want them to be treated unfairly. I want to cheer for them,” Habiro said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Draft law on state of emergency pending finalisation

    Prime Minister Hun Sen will lead a top-level meeting on Tuesdays to review the draft law on imposing a state of emergency. Meantime, he has decided to close all casinos in Cambodia effective April 1. In the press conference after the National Assembly met today, Hun

  • State of emergency on table amid pandemic

    Prime Minister Hun Sen, his deputy prime ministers and legal team will meet on Tuesday to review the draft law on declaring a state of emergency, as Covid-19 cases rose to 107 in the Kingdom on Monday. Speaking at a press conference after a parliament meeting

  • Stranded passengers petition UK for help

    Some 10,521 people have signed an online petition calling on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and relevant officials to fly nearly 200 passengers out of Cambodia. The petition is targeted at 15,000 people. Most of the passengers are British nationals, who are stranded in Cambodia after airlines cancelled

  • Many in limbo as tension heightens

    As the Kingdom restricts travel and prepares for a state of emergency, some foreigners in Cambodia are scrambling for a way home. Foreign embassies in Phnom Penh are making efforts to get their citizens out, but cancelled flights have become common due to the coronavirus

  • Covid-19 Pandemic: Force majeure and legal consequences

    Is the Covid-19 pandemic considered an event of force majeure? The World Health Organisation declared the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak a pandemic on March 11. Following this declaration, the Ministry of Health and other ministries have taken various legal and administrative measures to prevent the rapid

  • State of emergency draft law set for NA

    A draft law aiming to place the Kingdom in a state of emergency amid the Covid-19 pandemic is set for a debate at the National Assembly (NA) after going through the Council of Ministers’ Standing Committee meeting led by Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday.