More than 620 passengers aboard the cruise ship Diamond Princess were infected with the COVID-19 virus. Japanese authorities have been criticized for their handling of the outbreak on the vessel.
Two elderly passengers who were on board the coronavirus-hit cruise ship Diamond Princess near Tokyo have died, Japanese media reported Thursday.
According to Japanese public broadcaster NHK, citing government sources, the victims were a woman and a man in their 80s. Kyodo news agency reported that 29 others were in a serious condition. The Health Ministry could not immediately confirm the reports.
The vessel had been quarantined off Yokohama since February 3. More than 620 of the passengers were infected with the virus — the biggest cluster of cases outside China.
Some 443 passengers disembarked from the ship on Wednesday, after testing negative for COVID-19 and not showing symptoms during the 14-day quarantine period. They were quarantined again in their home countries.
Another 500 passengers began leaving the vessel on Thursday. A complete evacuation of the Diamond Princess is expected to take at least two more days.
Japan faces criticism
The Japanese government has come under pressure for its handling of the outbreak on the cruise ship, which had been carrying some 3,700 people.
Passengers were told to stay in their cabins from February 5 in a bid to contain the virus. But these efforts "may not have been sufficient to prevent transmission among individuals on the ship," the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.
Japan's Health Ministry has defended its actions, saying it had conducted "consultations on appropriate infection control in the ship" with experts and taken a range of measures.
China reports drop in new cases
The death toll in China reached 2,118 on Thursday, but the tally of new cases reported by health officials was the lowest it has been in nearly a month.
More than 74,000 people have been infected in China, the majority of them in central Hubei province. Hundreds more cases have been reported in more than two dozen countries. Two people died of the disease in Iran on Wednesday — the first deaths in the Middle East.
A total of 10 people, including the two Japanese cruise ship passengers, have died outside of mainland China.
jcg/nm (Reuters, AFP)