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88 more people test positive for coronavirus on Japan cruise ship

Another 88 people aboard a cruise ship off Japan have tested positive for the coronavirus, authorities said Tuesday, as those free of the disease hoped they were spending their last night on board before disembarking.

The new cases take the total from the Diamond Princess to 542 — easily the biggest cluster outside the epicentre in China — as the cruise ship has proved an especially virulent breeding ground for the virus despite quarantine.

The new cases will be sent to specialised hospitals, the ministry said in a statement, without giving further details such as their nationalities.

Sixty-five of those who tested positive were not yet showing symptoms.

Britain became the latest country to offer its citizens a way off the boat, saying it was “working to organise a flight back to the UK” as doubts grow over the effectiveness of the quarantine measures with every spike in positive cases.

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Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and South Korea have already said they will evacuate their citizens from the ship, following the lead from the United States, which flew home around 300 Americans on Monday — including more than a dozen who had tested positive.

“We have done tests for everyone (on the ship),” Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters.

“Some results have already come out… and for those whose test results are already clear, we are working to prepare disembarkation,” he said.

In a letter sent to passengers, authorities explained that some test results would take time to process and that therefore “we plan the disembarkation to take place from 19 to 21 February”.

“If you and your roommate are both negative and have no fever or respiratory symptoms, you will be able to prepare for disembarkation,” the letter said.

But those who had close contact with anyone who tested positive will have their quarantine reset to the last date.

The crew, some of whom have complained about conditions on board, are also expected to remain to observe another quarantine period after the last passengers leave the ship.

Japan has been forced to defend its policy amid criticism for the way it handled the situation, with dozens of new infections detected almost daily since the ship arrived in early February.

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Chuka (Webby) Aniemeka
Chuka (Webby) Aniemeka

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