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Friday, February 14, 2020, 17:49
Japan to step up virus control efforts after first death
By Reuters
Friday, February 14, 2020, 17:49 By Reuters

A commuter wearing a face mask rides a metro train in Tokyo on Feb 8, 2020. (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

TOKYO — Japan on Friday vowed to step up testing and containment efforts for the coronavirus after suffering its first death and the confirmation of new cases, including a doctor and a taxi driver.

The biggest cluster of coronavirus infections outside China is on a cruise liner quarantined in a Japanese port, with 218 people on board confirmed as infected and taken off to hospital.

On Friday, some of the ship’s passengers were allowed to disembark - with priority given to older passengers who have been confined to windowless cabins - to complete their quarantine on shore.

A woman in her 80s living in Kanagawa prefecture, west of Tokyo, became Japan’s first fatality from the virus, the health ministry said on Thursday.

A woman in her 80s living in Kanagawa prefecture, west of Tokyo, became Japan’s first fatality from the virus, the health ministry said on Thursday

She had been transferred between hospitals as her condition worsened and was only confirmed as having the coronavirus after her death.

Her death brings to three the number of fatalities from the virus outside the Chinese mainland. One person has died in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and one in the Philippines.

ALSO READ: Abe to spend US$94m to fight virus as Japan reports 1st death

There are nearly 450 confirmed cases in some 24 countries and territories outside China, with 33 in Japan as well as the 218 from the cruise ship Diamond Princess, which has been moored in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, since Feb. 3.

A Tokyo taxi driver, who Japanese media said was the woman’s son-in-law, as well as a man in his 20s just east of Tokyo and a doctor in Wakayama, western Japan, were also confirmed to have the virus.

“We will stay in touch with local governments and expand our testing procedures and treatment of patients in order to prevent the spread,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters, a day after a task force on the disease drew up measures to deal with it, including spending 10.3 billion yen from budget reserves.

Officials in Wakayama later said a man who had been hospitalized at the hospital where the doctor worked had tested positive for the virus and was in serious condition, and that several other people were being observed.

GETTING OFF THE SHIP

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said there was no evidence the coronavirus was spreading widely in Japan, although he said that it might, and the government needed prepare for that.

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said there was no evidence the coronavirus was spreading widely in Japan, although he said that it might, and the government needed prepare for that

But Hiroshi Oshitani, a professor of virology at Tohoku University School of Medicine, said the situation in Japan had entered a new stage.

“There’s the chance that many people may have been infected by each of these people,” Oshitani said, adding that he thought containing the virus may be impossible.

“We can’t contain it but we can slow its spread.”

Unease about the virus in Japan is spreading on social media, with some skeptics saying the government’s response resembled its reaction to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, when it took time for the true extent of the disaster to emerge.

“All their comments then were ‘there’s no immediate danger to health’ now they’re saying ‘in an epidemiological sense’ it’s not spreading,” wrote one with the handle Kanzu.

“They’re trying to misrepresent it all.”

The passengers who got off the Diamond Princess were taken away in several buses to complete their quarantine.

READ MORE: Cruise passengers shunned over coronavirus to head home

The alarm was first raised on the ship after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong was diagnosed with the virus. Its quarantine is set to end on Feb. 19.

About 80% of the ship’s passengers are 60 years old or older, with 215 in their 80s and 11 in their 90s, according to media.

The ship, managed by Princess Cruise Lines and owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp, typically has a crew of 1,100 and a passenger capacity of 2,670.

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