Japan's Nagasaki confirms 33 coronavirus cases on cruise ship docked for repairs

The cruise ship Costa Atlantica is carrying 623 crew members and no passengers.
PHOTO: Carnival Corporation

TOKYO - Authorities in Japan's western prefecture of Nagasaki have confirmed 33 coronavirus infections on an Italian cruise ship docked for repairs, they said on Wednesday, appealing for help from the central government to tackle the incident.

Tests proved positive for 33 of the 56 close shipboard contacts of a single one of the vessel's 623 crew whose infection had been confirmed on Tuesday, they added.

Nagasaki's governor, Hodo Nakamura, told a news conference the central government, the prefecture and Nagasaki city all needed to do their part to quickly resolve the situation.

"There are a lot of infections on board, and we don't have the medical system to confirm the health situation and to separate those who test positive and negative," he added.

"We'll also need a system for transporting patients. It's difficult for the prefecture to carry out decontamination work so I want to seek the country's support."

Nakamura had requested support through Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, he said.

Only crew were on the Costa Atlantica, operated by Costa Cruises SpA, when the ship was taken into a shipyard in Nagasaki city in late February by Mitsubishi Shipbuilding, a unit of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

The virus pandemic had scuttled plans for scheduled repairs in China.

Japanese health authorities are testing the rest of its crew.

Those who test positive with slight symptoms or who are asymptomatic will stay aboard for monitoring, while those in serious condition will be taken to medical institutions, Nakamura said, with those testing negative sent to home nations.

Suga told a separate news conference that Japan's health ministry is cooperating with the Italian government and had sent specialists and cluster infection experts to the ship.

Concern for local community

Concern was growing, however, about the potential impact on Nagasaki residents after revelations that some crew had left the restricted area where the ship was being repaired.

A Mitsubishi official, at the same news conference, said the company had been assured by Costa Atlantica that crew would not leave the terminal as of March 14, but it later found out that some had left, for reasons such as visiting hospital or going to the airport to return home upon completion of their work contract.

"Our understanding is that any departure was not for purposes such as sightseeing or eating out," the official said. He added that anyone leaving the terminal area was screened, with no one allowed out if they had a fever of over 37.5 degrees Celsius.

"We had been told that there was no embarking or disembarking so this is a very regrettable situation," Nakamura said in response.

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The governor also faulted the Italian cruise ship operator for not managing the movements of its crew in the manner it had promised, when asked his view on Mitsubishi's responsibility.

News of the ship infections was trending on Twitter and sparked comparisons to the Diamond Princess, which had been quarantined in February. The virus spread to more than 700 people on board the Diamond Princess and experts criticised the government's quarantine process.

"What, have none of the lessons of the Diamond Princess been learned? It was docked for repairs but were they urgent enough to require this, why was this allowed?" one user tweeted. "They should go back to their own country as soon as possible."

Japanese health authorities are testing other crew on board the Costa Atlantica.

Those who test positive with slight symptoms or who are asymptomatic will stay aboard for monitoring, while those in serious condition will be taken to medical institutions, Nakamura said, with those testing negative sent to home nations.

Japan has seen more than 11,500 infections and close to 300 deaths from the new coronavirus, excluding figures from the Diamond Princess.

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