Professor Kentaro Iwata of the Faculty of Infectious Diseases at Kobe University reported that the conditions on the Diamond Princess ship were “completely chaotic”.
The Japanese professor Kentaro Iwata, an epidemiologist at the University Hospital of Kobe University, spent a day at the Diamond Princess as a volunteer. In multiple YouTube videos, he strongly criticized government policy. “The cruise ship was completely inadequate in terms of controlling infections,” he said in one of them. “There was not a single infection control professional on the ship, nor anyone professionally involved in infection prevention. The bureaucrats were in charge of everything.”
“There is no clear distinction between the green (healthy) zones and the red (potentially infected) zones. And the staff is running back and forth,” Iwata reported. Such public criticism of the country’s authorities and leadership is extremely rare in Japan.
Iwata-san said he was shocked by the conditions on the ship. Unlike previous epidemics in which he was involved, such as outbreaks of SARS, Ebola, and cholera, the ship wasn’t divided into a safe ‘green zone’ and a potentially infected ‘red zone’. “It was even worse than what I’ve seen in Africa.”
Asked about Iwata’s videos, government spokesperson Yoshihide Suga rejected the criticism. He said that “strict measures” had been ordered on the ship from the beginning to prevent further spread of the virus on board. These included “the wearing of masks, regular hand washing and the use of disinfectants”, Suga reported, assuring that “we are doing our best”.
The “Diamond Princess”, with a total of 3,771 people on board, was quarantined off Yokohama by the Japanese authorities on February 5 because the novel coronavirus was detected on board. The first group of several hundred passengers was allowed to leave the ship on Wednesday after 14 days of quarantine and negative tests. At the same time, however, the Ministry of Health reported that 79 further cases of infection had occurred on board. A total of 621 people are now infected, most of whom have been taken to hospitals.
The Japanese government is defending its quarantine strategy. Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said on Wednesday: “Unfortunately, cases of infection have been detected, but we have, as far as possible, taken the appropriate steps to avoid serious cases, including sending infected people to hospitals”.
Meanwhile, further increases in case numbers have been reported from China. According to official figures, more than 2,000 people have died from the novel coronavirus. Among doctors and nurses, there are 3,000 cases, about twice as many infected as previously announced, according to state media reports on Wednesday. At least seven have died. The number of officially recorded infections nationwide rose to more than 74,000 cases. However, experts assume that the number of unreported cases is many times higher.
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