|21 February, 2020

Amid Japan coronavirus fears, hundreds leave quarantined ship, Tokyo scraps public events

The departure of more than 400 passengers from the Diamond Princess after weeks in quarantine comes as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a low-level travel advisory for Japan

Tourists wearing kimono and protective masks visit Sensoji Temple in Asakusa district in Tokyo, Japan, February 18, 2020.

Tourists wearing kimono and protective masks visit Sensoji Temple in Asakusa district in Tokyo, Japan, February 18, 2020.

REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

TOKYO  - Hundreds of Japanese and foreign passengers were set to disembark from a coronavirus-hit cruise ship near Tokyo on Friday amid growing disquiet in Japan about whether the government was doing enough to stop the virus spreading.

The departure of more than 400 passengers from the Diamond Princess after weeks in quarantine comes as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued a low-level travel advisory for Japan. In a bid to contain the virus, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government said it would either cancel or postpone major indoor events it has sponsored for the next three weeks.

More than 600 aboard the cruise liner, quarantined off Yokohama since arriving on Feb. 3 carrying 3,700 people, have been infected with the virus. Two of them - both Japanese in their 80s - died on Thursday, and about 100 passengers will be transferred ashore in coming days for further quarantine because they were in close quarters with infected travellers.

Around Japan, more than 80 people have tested positive for the virus, including three more confirmed on Friday in the northern island of Hokkaido. Two are brothers in elementary school, recovering in hospital, with the third a quarantine officer, Hokkaido's governor said at a briefing.

The mounting cases - particularly the high rate of infection on the cruise liner - have stoked concerns about Japan's quarantine practices. The virus has killed more than 2,200 in mainland China so far. 

At a briefing on Friday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga faced questions about why one of the liner passengers who died - an 84-year-old woman - was not tested or transferred to a hospital until a week after she developed a fever.

"The woman was removed from the ship on the 12th after the fever continued for days," he said. "A decision was made not to wait for the test results before moving her to hospital to protect the health of those remaining on the ship."

'WHAT THE HECK'

Many Japanese on social media expressed concern about their government's handling of the situation.

"There are still crew testing positive on the ship, yet people are being allowed to disembark - and told it's okay to use public transportation to get home, then told by the health ministry to avoid using public transportation after they are home," wrote one Twitter user using the handle 'Homo Sapiens'.

"What the heck is this"

In the United States, the CDC said in a note on its website that it had put Japan at "Watch Level 1", the least serious of a three-level travel advisory scale. It said that while it didn't recommend postponing or cancelling trips to Japan because of the virus, travellers should take precautions including "avoiding contact with sick people" and rigorous hand-washing.

In the latest in a series of sports events to be curtailed or cancelled, a women's marathon in the central Japanese city of Nagoya set for March 8 will be limited to elite runners only, while the Nagoya City Marathon scheduled for the same day has been cancelled, organisers said. 

Both the Tokyo Marathon, which will be limited to elite runners, and the Nagoya race are Olympic qualifying events for Japanese marathon runners, deepening concern about whether the Summer Games set to start on July 24 will go on as planned.

Olympics Minister Seiko Hashimoto said the International Olympic Committee had told the Japanese government there were no problems holding the Games as planned at this stage, according to media reports, while at the same time the minister urged sick people not to show up at Olympic torch relay events starting on March 26.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies and Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell) ((elaine.lies@thomsonreuters.com; +81-3-4563-2748; Reuters Messaging: elaine.lies@thomsonreuters.com))

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