After two weeks of coronavirus quarantine, today is the first day of freedom for more than 400 passengers who have been stuck on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.
The vessel was initially carrying about 3,700 passengers and crew from more than 50 countries and regions.
At least 621 people have contracted the illness.
In the port car park in Yokohama, hazmat-clad officials greet the slow trickle of passengers who have tested negative and are cleared to leave, loading them on to specially adapted buses.
Inside the driver sits behind a protective layer of bubble wrap, dividing him from the travellers who for weeks have been living in a virus hotspot.
Image: Passengers can be seen disembarking the Diamond Princess
Image: A bus carrying former passengers of the cruise ship is seen about to leave the port
Others are collected by relatives, overjoyed that their loved ones are hopefully out of danger.
Among the first off, a Japanese man who wheels his suitcase out of the dock gate.
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He doesn’t want to give his name but says he is relieved to be going home and confirms his health is good.
An anonymous female passenger is also feeling confident.
Image: A passenger leaves the Diamond Princess after spending two weeks in quarantine
She said: “I felt totally safe, I’m that kind of person. I trusted everyone on the ship to look after me.”
But others are less positive, the ship they have been confined to has been described by some on board as a floating prison where the coronavirus infection rate keeps on rising.
Hundreds of passengers, including Britons still cannot escape. They’re waiting for evacuation but fearing infection.
Passenger’s guide to quarantine
At the train station, I ask a Japanese man, who has just disembarked and also doesn’t want to be named, if he feels enough was done to stop the spread of the virus on the Diamond Princess?
He said: “The ship’s quarantine didn’t work. It looked like a quarantine – but it was nonsense. It didn’t stop the spread of the virus. It was all over the ship.”
More than 600 passengers have now tested positive for coronavirus after another 79 cases were confirmed today, the highest concentration outside mainland China.
The Japanese government has again defended the way it has managed the quarantine saying “thorough action” to prevent the spread has been taken including using masks, disinfectant and keeping people apart.
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Yoshihide Suga, Japanese chief cabinet secretary, explains: “With the urgency of the current situation, Japan took full measures to ensure the prevention of the spread of the infection, taking into consideration human rights and humanitarian needs, cooperating with relevant nations and taking appropriate measures.”
But the professor of infectious diseases at Kobe University, Kentaro Iwata, has been on board and is seriously concerned.
An expert who has worked with ebola and SARS, he wrote in an online blog: “Inside the Princess Diamond I was so scared. I was so scared of getting COVID-19 because there’s no way to tell where the virus is. No green zone, no red zone. Everywhere could have the virus and everybody was not careful about it. There was no single professional infection control person inside the ship.”
Image: Some passengers were seen getting into taxis after being allowed to disembark the ship
In isolation in a Japanese hospital, I speak to coronavirus patient Jerri Jorgensen via Skype.
Like 68 of the recently diagnosed passengers removed from the ship she has no symptoms.
A silent carrier, she was contagious without even knowing it.
She said: “If they didn’t tell me I had the virus I wouldn’t have known. I’m hardly ever sick, but I think I may have had a cold that was worse than this. I’m experiencing no physical ailments at all, none.”
It raises the question, how many more people could unwittingly be spreading the virus.
With passengers, including Britons, still unclear when they will leave, the current focus is on getting people home, but huge questions remain unanswered about how a quarantine ship became a coronavirus breeding ground.
Source : Sky News