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The worst coronavirus outbreak outside China is on a ship, and it's getting more severe, with 40 more cases confirmed on a quarantined cruise liner in Yokohama, Japan.
Japan’s health ministry announced Wednesday that 39 more people on board the Princess Diamond, as well as a quarantine officer who had come aboard to help screen passengers, had caught the virus, bringing the total number of cases to 175.
According to media reports citing the health ministry, the quarantine officer who caught the virus has been handing out health survey forms to passengers, and had been wearing a mask and gloves in line with ministry guidance. Of the new cases, 10 are Japanese nationals, and the rest are from 11 countries, including the U.S. and China, the ministry said.
Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said four of the patients diagnosed with the virus were in serious condition, and were either in intensive care or on a ventilator.
The rising number of infections has fuelled an increasingly desperate atmosphere on board the cruise liner, which was placed in quarantine in Yokohama on Feb. 3 with nearly 3,700 people on board after a man who had left the ship in Hong Kong was diagnosed. Fears of being infected in the closed environment of the cruise liner have already prompted some crew members to make panicked appeals on social media for their governments to intervene to release them.
One of the passengers, David Abel, told Sky News he has been kept awake at night by a fellow passenger crying in her cabin for hours.
“It is more challenging, as each day progresses we are having additional people testing positive,” he said. “We are seeing the results now on a daily basis, so it is getting people’s moods down.”
Another passenger, Matthew Smith from Sacramento, Ca., told the BBC that passengers are mostly confined to their cabins and are being taken on to the decks for an hour at a time in rotating groups to get them fresh air.
Those on board who test positive for the virus — officially known as Covid-19 — are taken off the ship and into hospital. But for the rest, the ordeal is set to continue for another week: the ship is due to be released from quarantine on Feb. 19, according to a statement from Princess Cruises Wednesday.
Those on board another cruise ship stranded by coronavirus fears got good news Wednesday, with the announcement that they were due to finally disembark in Sihanoukville, Cambodia Thursday, having been turned away from ports in five other countries.
The Westerdam, a luxury liner carrying 2,257 passengers and crew, left Hong Kong on Feb. 1 on a 14-day cruise of East Asia, but has been stranded at sea after Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Guam and Thailand all refused to let the ship dock — despite no one onboard having any sign of the virus.
Cover: People in protective suits head to the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Yokohama near Tokyo on Feb. 11, 2020. The vessel has been kept in quarantine since the detection of a new coronavirus infection among people aboard. (Kyodo via AP Images)