TOKYO — It’s clear the quarantine hasn’t worked as expected with another 88 cases of the COVID-19 virus diagnosed onboard a cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan.
Now, a growing number of scientists say the ship served as an incubator for a worrying new virus from China instead of a quarantine facility meant to prevent the worsening of an outbreak that has sickened tens of thousands.
The ship, the Diamond Princess, is home to the biggest cluster of COVID-19 cases outside Mainland China and Canadians are among those who’ve tested positive.
In a possible sign of lax quarantine protocols, three Japanese health officials who helped in the quarantine checks on the ship were also infected.
“I suspect people were not as isolated from other people as we would have thought,” said Dr. Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia in England.
The two-week quarantine was largely for the passengers because crew members kept sharing double rooms with their colleagues, and they continued to serve the guests by delivering food, letters, towels and amenities, and entering passenger cabins for cleaning. Crew members also cooked their own food and ate in groups in a crew mess hall.
Other scientists argue passengers should have been removed from the boat from the beginning.
“Boats are notorious places for being incubators for viruses,” said Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at the New York University School of Medicine. “It’s only morally justified to keep people on the boat if there are no other options.”
There are now 542 cases of the virus among the 3,711 passengers and crew on the ship, including 255 Canadians waiting for an evacuation plane. Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne has tweeted the plane is already on its way to Tokyo.
Passengers who test negative for the virus will be able to leave the ship when the plane arrives, according to Japan’s health minister, Katsunobu Kato. If they are showing symptoms of the virus, they will then be taken to hospitals in Japan.
Once they reach Canadian soil, they will be sent back into isolation at the Canadian Forces Bases Trenton in Ontario for another 14 days to ensure they are virus-free.
Australia, U.S., Hong Kong, and Italy are planning similar flights for their citizens.
The Japanese Health Ministry has been carrying out tests on passengers and crew on the ship.