Japan is to allow older passengers and those with chronic health conditions to leave the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise liner, amid growing concern about onboard sanitation and the state of their health, the Kyodo news agency has reported.
The government initially said all 3,700 passengers and crew would have to stay on the ship throughout its 14-day quarantine in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, in an attempt to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
So far 135 among the 439 passengers tested have been diagnosed with the virus and have been transferred to local hospitals.
But authorities are poised to allow other vulnerable passengers to disembark from Tuesday, Kyodo said, citing an unnamed source.
Conditions aboard the vessel pose a health risk to older passengers, some of whom require medication for conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
About 80% of the 2,600 passengers are aged 60 or over, with 215 in their 80s and 11 in their 90s, Kyodo said.
The news agency quoted Masahiro Kami, head of the Medical Governance Research Institute, a nonprofit organisation, as saying that older people with chronic illnesses could see their health deteriorate if they are confined to cramped cabins.
“They will be susceptible to virus infection and risk their lives,” Kami said.
The health ministry is so far sticking with plans to allow passengers who show no signs of the virus to leave the vessel on 19 February.
The ministry has sent medications to about 750 passengers, but one person aboard told Kyodo that some passengers who were feeling unwell needed proper medical care.
“We want the government to send more doctors, nurses and consultants,” the passenger said.
On Monday a group of passengers wrote to the health ministry to warn that the long quarantine was beginning to affect standards of hygiene.
“Cabins have gone largely uncleaned and bed linens unchanged for nearly a week,” the letter said, according to the Nikkei Asian Review.
“The environment on board is rapidly growing worse day by day.”
The Diamond Princess has been kept in quarantine since 5 February after it emerged that a passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong late last month had tested positive for the coronavirus.