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Transmission of Coronavirus on Diamond Princess Began before Quarantine Period


( 23, 2020)--The coronavirus-stricken cruise ship Diamond Princess that was put on quarantine in Yokohama triggered international criticism directed at Japan for its alleged mishandling of the situation. Screen Shot 2020-03-23 at 15.3.19


The ship had docked alongside Daikoku Futo pier off Yokohama port in the late hours of Feb. 3, where Japanese officials immediately placed it on quarantine for 14 days. A number of passengers were already sick and had a fever. 


Samples were immediately taken from 273 people on Feb. 4, with priority given to symptomatic people and those who were in close contact with the infected man. 


The initial results showed 10 positive cases. The next day, another 10 were found positive and by the third day, the number of people infected with Covid-19 had risen to 61. The trend continued, as each day brought new cases, totaling 705 cases and seven deaths by the end of the month, although all passengers and crew had left the ship by Feb. 21. 


As the test results were released, patients who had positive results were taken off the boat and admitted to various hospitals in Japan. People with other diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and other chronic illnesses were also taken off the ship and given their medications. 


Prior to the Diamond Princess debacle, the Japanese government had been evacuating its citizens from Wuhan, the epicenter of Covid 19, and Hubei province where Wuhan is located. It took five flights from Jan. 29 to Feb. 16 to repatriate 828 Japanese citizens and their families. 


The last two flights were made while the Japanese government was also busy with the Covid 19 quarantine of the cruise ship. The testing kits with the Health Ministry had dwindled since the Japanese citizens and their families that had been repatriated earlier from Wuhan had all undergone testing. 


Since there was already a shortage of testing kits, priority was given to the vulnerable passengers and crew on the Diamond Princess. Others who were seemingly healthy were low on the list for testing. 


Before the issue of the cruise ship began, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his officials already had policies put in place to protect the safety and health of its people and the country’s economy. The effectiveness of these measures successfully diminished the infections. 


In early February, outside of China, Japan was No. 2 on the list of countries with the highest cases. By mid-March, it had slid to No. 17. That’s quite a feat considering that it has a population of 1.26 million. The total number of infected people stands at a little more than 800, and its death cases is 27. 


By comparison, the UK has 67 million people and its Covid 19 cases are more than 1,500 with 55 deaths. Not surprisingly, its government had acted belatedly on the coronavirus problem.


As the number of confirmed cases on the Diamond Princess continued to increase, experts began criticizing the quarantine protocols and methods. Scientists, public health officials and medical experts granted interviews and gave their opinions on what went wrong with the lockdown and what the Japanese government should have done. 


Several specialists have called into question the appropriateness of the ship quarantine, calling it an incubator for the virus, wholly inappropriate and a complete failure. Trapping sick and healthy people in a confined space for two weeks makes the risk exceedingly high for spreading the virus and infecting healthy people. 


Professor Kentaro Iwata released a stinging video citing poor hygiene practices, complete inadequacy of infection control and bureaucrats running the show. He had been on the ship for under two hours when he was ordered to leave. In truth, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists that were members of the DMAT (Disaster Medical Assistance Team) were working to help in the quarantine processes. 


What these critics didn’t take into account was that Covid 19 has an incubation period of 5 to 14 days. Hence, the infected passenger must have already passed on the virus to the others on the ship prior to its quarantine.


It would be inaccurate to conclude that the virus transmission was entirely a consequence of the ship’s lockdown. It would also be unjust and unethical to put the blame on the transmission of the virus solely on Japan’s shoulders.


In fact, during the first few days of the quarantine, the US government had expressed their gratitude to Japan and many Americans opted to stay on the ship or on land when two chartered planes arrived to evacuate the US citizens. 


To recall, the Diamond Princess, a British-flagged cruise ship based in the United States, had set off from Yokohama on Jan. 21. When the coronavirus case was confirmed on Feb. 1, Hong Kong authorities immediately informed Princess Cruises. 


The ship’s management decided to cancel the voyage and return to Yokohama, a day short of its original schedule. The Japanese team that administered to the people in the Diamond Princess had advised those who did not have symptoms to stay in their cabins. But people who were or had been on the ship say that advice was largely unheeded. 


Dr. Norio Ohmagari, one of  Tokyo’s advisers for the Covid 19 outbreak and director for the country’s Disease Control and Prevention Center admits that the quarantine of the Diamond Princess may not have been perfect but the Japanese government had to make the tough decision of letting the crew do their jobs to keep the ship’s daily operations running, at the risk of getting infected themselves. 


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