Two Australian passengers on the Diamond Princess liner, tested positive for the new coronavirus in Australia, were initially tested negative in Japan. News which raises questions about the policy of the Japanese authorities which authorized hundreds of repatriations.
Two new infected people
"We have two people who are positive for the Covid-19 virus. These two people have a mild form of the disease," said Dianne Stephens, acting health officer for the Northern Territory, on Friday. All of the 164 Australians evacuated from the liner in quarantine in Japan, and returned to their country at the beginning of the week, "had been tested negative for Covid-19 in Japan", according to the authorities.
A total of six Australians evacuated from the Diamond Princess were re-tested in Australia on Friday and two of them, described as "an older person" and "a younger person", tested positive. Such a positive result was "not unexpected" given that the virus continued to spread on board after the tests began, authorities said.
This announcement is, however, likely to raise questions about the procedures used by the Japanese authorities concerning the occupants of the Diamond Princess, docked in the port of Yokohama and which is the largest source of the virus outside China. Hundreds of people have been authorized to leave the ship after being tested negative for the disease, and many have returned to their respective countries to be quarantined again.
"Reassure the public"
Earlier this week, 164 Australians who were on board left for northern Australia. Hundreds of Japanese passengers were allowed to leave and were only instructed to "stay at home unless absolutely necessary" to get out, to "never" use public transport and to wear a protective mask if they get out.
The main Australian medical official, Professor Brendan Murphy, said, however, that the people of Australia should not be worried. "I want to reassure the public: although these are two new cases in Australia, this is a first for some time," said Professor Murphy. "Such cases were expected and we are well able to deal with them."
Fifteen previous cases of coronavirus infection in Australia have been linked to the epidemic that started in December in China. Professor Murphy said he was confident about the ability of Japan and South Korea, where the number of infections on Friday was 156, after doubling the previous day, to contain the disease. "Japan and South Korea have well-developed health systems," he said.
First two dead among cruise passengers
In Japan, two carriers of the coronavirus, two octogenarians who were on board the Diamond Princess, died in hospital, the Japanese Ministry of Health announced on Thursday. These are the first deaths observed among confirmed carriers of the virus having been on the cruise ship, 634 after the announcement of 13 new cases by the Japanese Ministry of Health.
On Wednesday, 443 passengers declared healthy disembarked from the liner, and nearly 250 on Thursday. The evacuation of all travelers should take at least three days. The results of examinations for several hundred others are still awaited.