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Thursday, February 13, 2020, 22:33
Abe to spend US$94m to fight virus as Japan reports 1st death
By Reuters
Thursday, February 13, 2020, 22:33 By Reuters

Workers gather before removing machinery stored on the dock next to the Diamond Princess cruise ship at Daikoku Pier where it is being resupplied on Feb 13, 2020 in Yokohama, Japan. (CARL COURT/GETTY IMAGES)

TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday said the cabinet will decide Friday to spend 10.3 billion yen (US$93.9 million) from the budget reserve to respond to the novel coronavirus, as the country reported its first death from the disease.

A woman in her 80s died Thursday, said Health Minister Katsunobu Kato. She was being treated for a separate condition and doctors discovered post-mortem that she tested positive, Kato said.

A woman in her 80s who has contracted the coronavirus died Thursday, said Japan's Health Minister Katsunobu Kato. The death marks the third fatality from the virus outside the Chinese mainland, with the others being in Hong Kong and the Philippines

The woman has no travel records to Wuhan and authorities are looking into how she contracted the virus, Kyodo news agency said.

The death marks the third fatality from the virus outside the Chinese mainland, with the others being in Hong Kong and the Philippines.

After a meeting of a task force on the coronavirus on Thursday, Abe said steps to curb the epidemic would total 15.3 billion yen.

Earlier in the day, NHK television reported that a Tokyo taxi driver had tested positive for the virus.

The driver had had passengers who appeared to be Chinese, NHK added, quoting the Health Ministry.

NHK's report came after Kato said the country will allow some elderly passengers aboard the Diamond Princess who test negative for the coronavirus to disembark ahead of schedule, as another 44 new cases were confirmed aboard the ship.

The Health Ministry said that 33 people out of the 44 new infections were in their 80s, Bloomberg reports.

Kato said elderly passengers who have pre-existing conditions or are in windowless rooms would be allowed to leave starting from Friday, rather than the originally targeted date of Feb 19, and complete their quarantine ashore.

Elderly passengers who have pre-existing conditions or are in windowless rooms would be allowed to leave starting from Friday, rather than the originally targeted date of Feb 19, and complete their quarantine ashore, Japan's health minister said

With the number of those infected on the cruise ship now up to 218 plus one quarantine officer, concerns have been raised about conditions on the ship, where about 3,500 people remain on board.

ALSO READ: Quarantine officer infected as Japan cruise ship cases hit 175

The liner was quarantined on arrival in Yokohama, near Tokyo, on Feb 3 after a man who disembarked from the liner in Hong Kong before it traveled to Japan was diagnosed with the virus.

About 80 percent of the ship passengers were aged 60 or over, with 215 in their 80s and 11 in their 90s, according to Japanese media. The ship typically has a crew of 1,100 and a passenger capacity of 2,670.

“We will make every effort to ensure the safety and peace of mind of the people,” Kato said at a televised news conference, without confirming the number of passengers who may leave ahead of schedule.

The minister said those who fit the criteria and wished to disembark would be housed in unspecified facilities provided by the Japanese government.

Those who had been in close contact with persons who tested positive would not be allowed to leave the ship, he said.

READ MORE: 66 new coronavirus infections found on cruise ship in Japan

Recycled air 'no risk'

The British-flagged Diamond Princess is managed by Princess Cruise Lines, one of the world’s largest cruise lines and a unit of Carnival Corp.

Kyodo news agency said the additional 44 cases included 43 passengers and one crew member, with the total number of confirmed cases in Japan rising to 247, including those infected on the Diamond Princess.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics President Yoshiro Mori repeated on Thursday that the Games would go ahead as planned

Brandon Brown, an expert in international health at the University of California, Riverside, said Japan’s initial decision to keep passengers and crew on board seemed “a wise first step”.

Another option, he told Reuters, would be to take everyone off the ship, isolate those with symptoms and quarantine the rest in a place with more space and less interaction, but “with 4,000 people, this is no easy task”.

He also said that recycled air on the ship - a concern of some passengers - did not pose a risk.

“The more likely explanation for the spread of infection during quarantine on the ship is the high passenger interaction due to close quarters and limited personal space on any cruise ship,” Brown said.

Olympic concerns

The spread of the virus has raised concerns about possible impact on the Summer Olympics to be held in Tokyo from July 24.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics President Yoshiro Mori repeated on Thursday that the Games would go ahead as planned.

“I would like to clearly reiterate that cancellation or postponement of the Tokyo Games are not being considered,” he said at the start of a meeting with International Olympic Committee Coordination Commission Chief John Coates.

READ MORE: Japan's Abe says Olympics won't be postponed amid virus fears

Japanese nationals who’ve been staying in hotels or other facilities since returning on four charter flights from China’s Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic, have begun going home.

All 197 people from a Jan 29 flight who tested negative were either home or enroute and another 200 or so from a second flight could head home later on Thursday, public broadcaster NHK said.

With Bloomberg input

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