Passengers Over 80 Years of Age May Leave Quarantined Cruise Ship
Eight coronavirus patients from the cruise ship Diamond Princess are now in serious condition, up from four patients earlier in the week, Japan's ministry of health reported Thursday. The cruise ship has been quarantined at the port of Yokohama since early February.
The ministry has increased its scope of testing for the 3,500 passengers and crew who still remain on board the vessel, and over 700 have now been screened for infection. The number of confirmed cases has risen to 218, up by 44 from yesterday's count; the majority of the cases are elderly passengers.
Beginning Friday, the ministry says that it will allow select passengers aged 80 or older to disembark if they wish, so long as they test negative for the COVID-19 coronavirus. Eligible elderly passengers who are berthed in interior cabins or who have pre-existing medical conditions will take priority for the disembarkation process. While they will be able to leave the ship, they will still be restricted to lodging provided by the Japanese government.
According to Princess Cruises, the government-provided onshore accommodations will include individual rooms, but the facilities come with limitations. There are no on-site clinics: prescription medication will be provided, but medical care will require transport to a hospital. In addition, the food available will be limited to Japanese bento-style boxes, and no Western meals will be available. Food choices will be available to accommodate certain medical conditions, but will not accommodate passengers' dietary preferences.
The Japanese government's move to allow some passengers to transition to an onshore quarantine site comes after extensive criticism from public health experts outside of the country.
“I personally believe that this [quarantine] is a fundamental violation of human rights, and it’s a very risky situation to be in,” said Lauren Sauer, director of operations with the Johns Hopkins Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response (CEPAR), speaking to the Washington Post. “There are so many people on the ship who are potentially now exposed and their risk continues every minute they are on the ship.”
Unless circumstances change, the quarantine is scheduled to end for all passengers and crew next Wednesday.