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Two elderly passengers of coronavirus-wracked cruise ship in Japan die

12:21 | 20/02/2020

Two passengers from a coronavirus-hit cruise ship moored near Tokyo have died and 29 people were in a serious condition, Japanese media reported on Thursday (Feb 20).

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The Diamond Princess is seen here through a fence at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan, Feb 1, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Issei Kato)

More than 620 of the passengers on the Diamond Princess liner have been infected on the ship, which has been quarantined since Feb 3, initially with about 3,700 people on board.

Public broadcaster NHK said the deceased passengers were an 87-year-old Japanese man and an 84-year-old Japanese woman.

Both had underlying conditions and had been taken off the ship on Feb 11 and Feb 12 before being treated in hospital, NHK added.

Kyodo news agency reported 29 people were in a serious condition, including one who had earlier tested negative for the virus. The health ministry could not immediately confirm the reports.

Japan has now seen three deaths from the virus.

Meanwhile, the city of Fukuoka announced the same day it has confirmed that a man in his 60s living in the city has tested positive for the coronavirus. It is the first confirmed case in Kyushu.

The Fukuoka case brought the number of domestic cases of COVID-19 to 85.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga defended Japan's efforts. He told a news conference that after measures were put in place to isolate passengers on Feb 5, the number of new infections was now almost at zero. "In that sense, we believe the isolation was effective," he said.

Japan's National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) said in a report issued Wednesday that no new cases of the onset of the COVID-19 disease from the cruise ship were reported on Feb 16 to 17 and only one crew member case on Feb 15.

In a move to reassure the public, the health ministry also issued a statement in both English and Japanese that said all passengers had been required to stay in their cabins since Feb 5 to contain the virus. The day before, as passengers were being screened, ship events continued, including dances, quiz games and an exercise class.

About 500 passengers began disembarking on Thursday while another 100 people were to leave for chartered flights home, a health ministry official said.

An initial batch of passengers who had tested negative and shown no symptoms left the vessel on Wednesday.

Those who have shared a room with people testing positive were required to remain in quarantine, as were crew. The ministry could not confirm how many people remained on board, or when disembarkation would be complete.

The NIID said there should be no problem if people had shown no symptoms for 14 days and had tested negative for the virus during the period their health was under surveillance.

Besides those on the cruise liner and returnees brought home from the epicentre of the epidemic Wuhan in China, about 70 cases of domestic infections have been confirmed in Japan, including 25 in Tokyo, NHK reported./.

VNF/NHK/Kyodo