Two Japanese passengers who contracted the Covid-19 virus on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Japan have died.
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One passenger died from Covid-19, while the other died from pneumonia, said local reports. Both were in their 80s and had underlying health conditions.
They were being treated in hospitals after being taken off the Diamond Princess last week.
At least 621 people on the ship tested positive for the virus, the biggest cluster outside China.
Japan’s health minister said both passengers had been sent to medical facilities after showing symptoms.
“I believe they received the best possible treatment”, Katsunobu Kato, Japan’s Health Minister, said.
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The Diamond Princess was carrying 3,700 people in total and passengers who tested negative for the virus began leaving the ship on Wednesday after a 14-day quarantine.
Hundreds have now disembarked from the cruise. Others are set to leave over the next two days.
There have been criticisms over Japan’s handling of the quarantine on the Diamond Princess.
Kentaro Iwata, a professor at the infectious diseases division of Kobe University and a Japanese health expert, visited the Diamond Princess and said the situation on board was “completely chaotic”.
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“The cruise ship was completely inadequate in terms of infection control,” he said in a widely shared YouTube video which he has since taken offline.
But Kato responded to Professor Iwata’s criticism on Thursday, saying the country’s authorities had worked hard to deal with a very complicated situation.
“We’ve been doing our best in the circumstances,” Kato told Japanese lawmakers.
“Not only our officials at the health ministry but also Self-Defence Forces officials and medical officials are working desperately hard.
“We have specialists of infectious diseases [on the ship], and we get feedback from them about our operation every day, including dividing [the areas inside the ship].”
The health minister stressed that the cruise ship was “not a well-established place such as a hospital”, and that the authorities “kept correcting” various problems on a daily basis.
“We have to examine and learn from this case because we think this is a global issue,” Kato said.
Overall, there have now been 2,118 deaths and nearly 75,000 confirmed infections recorded in mainland China, the country where coronavirus emerged from.
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There are more than 1,000 cases outside of China with the biggest cluster on the Diamond Princess in Japan, followed by Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong.
Two persons have died in Hong Kong, while France, Japan, the Philippines and Taiwan have each had one death attributed to the virus.
Iran has confirmed that two people infected with the virus have died in the city of Qom – the first reported deaths in the Middle East.