A further 70 people on the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Japan have tested positive for Covid-19, bringing the total to 355, as three countries say they will fly their citizens on the ship home. It comes as China’s National Health Commission announced the death toll inside the country had risen to 1,665, with 68,500 infections.
The US embassy in Japan announced on Saturday that more than 400 US nationals would be flown home from the quarantined Diamond Princess, currently docked in the port of Yokohama, south of Tokyo.
The US embassy said in a letter to passengers that, based on the high number of confirmed coronavirus cases, passengers and crew members were considered to be “at high risk of exposure”. US charter flights are expected to arrive on Sunday.
Hong Kong, which has 330 citizens on board, said it will offer nationals an evacuation flight. The Canadian government also confirmed late on Saturday that it had chartered a plane to bring it citizens who are passengers on the ship home.
Canadian passengers who exhibit symptoms of the coronavirus infection will not be permitted to board the flight and will instead be transferred to the Japanese health care system to receive appropriate care, the government said.
After arriving in Canada, the passengers will undergo a 14-day period of quarantine, the statement added.
The Diamond Princess has been stuck in Japan after a passenger who had disembarked in Hong Kong tested positive for the virus.
The Australian embassy in Tokyo emailed citizens aboard the cruise ship to say the federal government was also examining options to assist Australians.
The embassy told citizens it understood it was a “very stressful” situation for them and that Australian medical officers were working closely with Japanese authorities to support them.
The British government has faced mounting pressure to evacuate its citizens, with one passenger, David Abel, who had been livestreaming from the ship, saying on Saturday that he had “given up on anybody in the UK”.
Seventy new cases were confirmed on the cruise liner on Sunday according to Japan’s minister of health, labor and welfare, Katsunobu Katoconfirmed, taking the number of cases on the ship over 350.
“So far, we have conducted tests for 1,219 individuals. Of those, 355 people tested positive. Of those, 73 individuals are not showing symptoms,” Kato said.
Passengers have been mostly confined to their cabins since 3 February, after measures were introduced to try to stop the spread of the disease onboard. The quarantine is due to end on Wednesday, though it is not clear if the emergence of new cases will prompt such restrictions to be extended.
There is also growing concern over possible infections among people who disembarked from the MS Westerdam in Cambodia on Friday, after it was confirmed that one passenger, who later flew to Malaysia, tested positive for the virus.
The 83-year-old woman flew from Cambodia to Malaysia with 144 others from the ship on Friday. The woman’s husband tested negative for the disease, Malaysia’s health ministry said.
The ship’s owner, Holland America, said: “While the first results have been reported, they are preliminary at this point and we are awaiting secondary testing for confirmation.”
Cambodian authorities called on Malaysia to review its test results.
The ship had been turned away by five countries, despite having no reported sickness on board at the time.
Around 68,500 people in mainland China are now confirmed to have been infected with the coronavirus, and 1,665 people have died from Covid-19, China’s National Health Commission said on Sunday. The figures included a further 142, in the 24-hours to midnight on Saturday, and a further 2,000 new confirmed cases.
The daily total of new cases represented a drop for the third day in a row, but researchers have advised caution. The dip in reported numbers follows a spike last week when Hubei province changed the way it was counting cases of the virus.
Facing criticism over Beijing’s handling of the outbreak, president Xi Jinping said in a speech reported by state media on Saturday evening that he had given instructions on fighting the disease as early as 7 January. The admission has fuelled questions over why the potential dangers of the virus were not conveyed fully to the public at an earlier date.
Most reports of the disease remain concentrated in Hubei, where the outbreak began, but cases have been confirmed across Asia, Australia, the US, Europe and, mostly recently, Africa. Four deaths have occurred outside mainland China – in Japan, Hong Kong, the Philippines and France.
France’s health minister, Anges Buzyn, said: “We have to get our health system ready to face a possible pandemic propagation of the virus, and therefore the spreading of the virus across France.” Her comments followed the death of a 80-year-old Chinese man at a Paris hospital.
Robin Thompson, an expert in mathematical epidemiology at Britain’s University of Oxford, said that with nearly 50 cases in Europe, a death was not surprising.
“The most important thing to point out, however, is that there still hasn’t been sustained person-to-person transmission in Europe,” he said.