Japan draws criticism on how it handled coronavirus outbreak on ship
TOKYO : As hundreds of people began disembarking a cruise ship quarantined in Japan yesterday, news came that an additional 79 cases of the Covid-19 virus have been discovered aboard the Diamond Princess, bringing the total to 621.
This fuelled the already mounting criticism Japan's handling of the on-board outbreak.
Professor Kentaro Iwata at the infectious diseases division of Kobe University said the on-ship quarantine was a "major failure, a mistake".
"It is highly likely secondary infections occurred," he said.
In videos that racked up hundreds of thousands of views, Prof Iwata later said he had been on board the ship on Tuesday and observed "completely chaotic" conditions.
"The cruise ship was completely inadequate in terms of infection control," he said, adding he now was placing himself into a 14-day self quarantine for fear of infecting his family.
The Japanese government has repeatedly said its response has been appropriate, and some prominent doctors have defended it.
"Epidemiological evidence shows that our isolation strategy worked," President of the Japan Community Healthcare Organisation Shigeru Omi said at a recent briefing.
The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention praised Japan's "extraordinary efforts" in the quarantine but questioned whether they were enough.
"CDC's assessment is that it may not have been sufficient to prevent transmission among individuals on the ship," it said.
The Diamond Princess arrived in Yokohama on Feb 3 with about 3,700 people on board after a man who disembarked last month in Hong Kong was diagnosed with the virus.
From the start, experts raised questions about the quarantine process. Passengers were not confined to their rooms until Feb 5. The day before, as officials screened them, on-board events continued, including dances, quiz games and an exercise class, one passenger said.
Meanwhile, the virus spread, most likely by people within their own cabins or by asymptomatic crew members interacting with passengers, experts said.
Japan also let people off the boat piecemeal, including those over 80 who tested negative, which experts said went against common protocols.
The contagion may also have been fuelled below deck, where the crew of about 1,100 worked and slept in cramped quarters, sharing living spaces and bathrooms.- REUTERS, AFP