An additional 79 cases of COVID-19 have been discovered aboard the cruise ship, the Health Ministry of Japan said on Wednesday, bringing the total to 621.
Passengers on the virus hit ship cruise moored near Tokyo began disembarking on February 19, public broadcaster NHK said, after a controversial two-week quarantine that saw more than 500 people infected with the new coronavirus originating in China.
The Diamond Princess, operated by Carnival Corp, has been quarantined in the port of Yokohama since February 3 after a man, who disembarked in Hong Kong before it travelled to Japan, was diagnosed with the virus.
More than 540 people have been infected with the virus on the liner, which originally carried some 3,700 passengers and crew. Many of those infected have already been transferred to hospitals. About half the passengers are Japanese.
Japan, which ranks second in the world after China in the number of confirmed virus cases, has come under fire for its handling of the cruise ship quarantine, although top government officials have defended the quarantine and onboard testing operation.
Around 500 people were expected to disembark starting Wednesday, a health ministry official said, with the entire process completed by Friday. With some passengers planning to stay on the ship it was unclear when the quarantine would end.
Besides those on the cruise liner and returnees brought home from China’s Wuhan city, the epicentre of the epidemic, about 60 cases of domestic infections have been confirmed in Japan, including 22 in Tokyo, according to NHK public broadcaster. Amid worries about a contracting economy, the spread of the virus has prompted Tokyo to curb the size of public gatherings and some companies are telling employees to work from home.
The spread of the virus has also raised concerns about the outlook for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, set to start on July 24, although organisers have said there are no plans to cancel the Summer Games.