20 Feb 2020

Coronavirus: Two more NZ cruise ship passengers test positive

10:36 am on 20 February 2020

Two New Zealand passengers leaving the Diamond Princess cruise liner in Japan have tested positive for the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Passenger patients on board the Princess Diamond,  who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus are carried to an ambulance at the Yokohama port.

Photo: AFP

They were prevented from taking the Australian evacuation flight which left Tokyo for Darwin shortly after 5am.

The pair were among eight New Zealand passengers due to arrive in Auckland tonight.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said during final medical checks, two of those passengers tested positive for Covid-19 and did not travel on the flight.

They are being treated in hospital in Japan and MFAT consular staff remain in contact with them.

Earlier, two other New Zealand passengers had contracted the virus and are also being treated in hospital in Japan.

The six New Zealanders on the flight to Darwin will be brought to Auckland on a flight arranged by New Zealand, before being transferred to quarantine at the Whangaparāoa naval base.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield yesterday said St John paramedics would be on the flight picking up the group from Darwin. He said everyone would have to be well and non-symptomatic before they got on either flight.

As passengers who tested negative for Covid-19 have begun leaving the ship, Japan's handling of the outbreak has come in for criticism.

More than 540 passengers and crew on the Diamond Princess have so far been infected by the Covid-19 virus - the biggest cluster outside mainland China. US officials said moves to contain the virus "may not have been sufficient".

Otago University infectious disease expert Professor Michael Baker said the cruise ship passengers had an even higher chance of infection than those who came from Wuhan.

"They are at risk of having been exposed, and really the clock starts ticking as soon as they leave that ship and are brought back to New Zealand, they've really got to have 14 days.

"This is a group where you really need full quarantine. They need to be supervised in a facility and looked after."

'Everyone is continually getting re-exposed'

US doctor Jeff Hopland, whose parents have been on board the Diamond Princess, told First Up the quarantine didn't work and anyone who had been on the ship should go into quarantine for two weeks when they get home.

"Once they realised that the virus was continuing to spread on the ship, that is no longer quarantine. Everyone is getting continually being re-exposed," he said.

"That puts the passengers at risk but ... if they let the people off the boat without actually doing a quarantine that virus is going to spread all over the world, especially in the situation of a cruise ship where people are from numerous countries.

"When they get home they all need to be re-quarantined for two weeks and it just needs to be done right."

Hopland said masks were delivered by people who weren't wearing gloves, some of those who went on the deck were taking off their masks to smoke, and balconies had very thin wooden barriers between them.

Crew members were going from room to room to deliver food, he said. "They're not medically trained - they don't know how to not spread it."

Hopland's mother Regina tested positive for Covid-19 and is in hospital. His father Arnold has to remain on the ship for a further two weeks because he has exposed to the virus.

"Once they realised they can't contain it on the ship they needed to get everyone off the ship and into a better-controlled environment where they could actually do the quarantine properly."

Auckland passenger Wren Manuel was not looking forward to spending another two weeks in quarantine at the Whangaparāoa base.

He and wife Kay Manuel were packing their bags yesterday, having passed an initial health check, and were waiting for the call to board a bus for the airport.

"It's been such a waste of time because we've done 14 [days] and now we've got to do another 14 when we come back."

Manuel said New Zealand officials should have acted when it was apparent the virus was spreading on the ship.

He said it was not fair passengers were being asked to pay toward the cost of flying home.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield has said the situation on board the Diamond Princess changed quickly, which was what prompted New Zealand and other countries to remove passengers.

"It was only toward the end of the 14-day period that the number of cases on board the ship really began to increase and that raised concerns for a number of countries about whether the quarantine measures on board were adequate."

Three New Zealand passengers chose not to take the flight to Darwin; one lives overseas and two others were staying outside New Zealand for the next two weeks.

New Zealand, Australia, the US, Canada, and the UK will place all those released from the ship in another 14 days' quarantine when they return home.

Yesterday, 157 Wuhan evacuees who had been quarantined for two weeks at the Whangaparāoa navy facility north of Auckland were allowed to leave. More than 50 foreign nationals who were part of the group were taken to the airport and the New Zealanders were taken home by bus or picked up by relatives.


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