Hundreds of passengers began leaving the Diamond Princess cruise ship Wednesday after the end of a much-criticized, two-week quarantine that failed to stop the spread of a new virus among passengers and crew, The Associated Press reported.
Results were still pending for some passengers who’ve been tested for the coronavirus that has infected tens of thousands of people in China and more than 540 on the ship.
The Japanese government has been questioned over its decision to keep people aboard the ship, which some experts have called a perfect virus incubator. The Diamond Princess is the site of the most infections outside of China, where the illness named COVID-19 emerged late last year. As of Tuesday, 542 cases have been identified among the original 3,711 people on the ship.
Many foreign governments say they won’t let in passengers from the ship until they have another quarantine period, so it was striking to see passengers disembark, get into taxis and disappear into Yokohama.
Japanese soldiers helped escort some passengers, including an elderly man in a wheelchair who wore a mask and held a cane. Some passengers got on buses to be transported to train stations. Some people still in their ship cabins waved farewell from their balconies to those who’d already departed.
“I’m a bit concerned if I’m OK to get off the ship, but it was getting very difficult physically,” a 77-year-old man from Saitama, near Tokyo, who got off with his wife, told Kyodo News. “For now, we just want to celebrate.”
Those getting off the ship in Japan with negative virus tests have fulfilled the Japanese quarantine requirement and are free to walk out and go home on public transportation, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said Wednesday, AP adds.
He said the plan was approved by experts at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases. Passengers are only asked to watch their health conditions carefully for a few days and notify local health authorities if they have any symptoms or worries, he said.
Some passengers said on Twitter they received health check forms asking if they had symptoms such as a headache, fever or coughing. Passengers who tested negative and had no symptoms still had to get their body temperature checked before leaving.