8 Feb 2020

Second New Zealander diagnosed with Wuhan coronavirus onboard cruise ship in Japan

7:57 pm on 8 February 2020

A second New Zealander has been diagnosed with the Wuhan coronavirus onboard a cruise ship in Japan.

Patients who are on board the Princess Diamond and who have been found to test positive for the novel coronavirus are taken to an ambulance.

Patients who are on board the Princess Diamond and who have been found to test positive for the novel coronavirus are taken to an ambulance. Photo: AFP

The person is currently receiving treatment in hospital.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade says to protect the person's privacy, they could not give further details.

The Diamond Princess, operated by Princess Cruises, was placed on a two-week quarantine on arriving at Yokohama on Monday after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong was diagnosed with the virus.

All passengers onboard the Diamond Princess, which includes around a dozen New Zealanders, are currently under quarantine until 12 February.

The total number of patients with confirmed cases of coronavirus who are onboard the Diamond Princess is now 64, with those infected being moved to hospitals on land.

Amid an epidemic that has already killed more than 700 in mainland China, Japan's health ministry said on Saturday that some 279 of the 3700 people on board the ship when it arrived had been tested for the virus.

More than 34,000 infections have now been reported in mainland China in an outbreak that originated in the city of Wuhan, in Hubei province.

The total death toll in mainland China today rose by 86 to 722, according to Chinese authorities, and is poised to pass the 774 deaths recorded globally during the 2002-2003 pandemic of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), another coronavirus that jumped from animals to humans in China.

During the SARS outbreak between November 2002 and July 2003, the number of reported cases was 8098, suggesting a far lower transmission rate than the latest coronavirus, but a higher mortality rate.

So far only two deaths have been reported outside mainland China - in Hong Kong and the Philippines - from about 332 cases in 27 countries and regions. Both of those victims were Chinese nationals.

Information lacking onboard

For the stranded passengers, promised "a treasure trove of exceptional delights" in the ship's brochure, the new infections spelled more gloom.

Staff distributed thermometers and passengers were told mental health experts were available for phone consultations.

"We have instructions to monitor our temperatures and report if we're above 37.5," a 43-year-old Hong Kong resident on the ship with his family told Reuters.

Normal human body temperature is generally accepted to be 37 degrees Celsius.

Passengers were finding out about the new infections from the internet before they were announced on the ship, said the Hong Kong man, who declined to be identified.

Ashley Rhodes-Courter, an American whose parents are on the ship, said she hoped US officials would help get them off.

"They are all breathing circulated contaminated air so they could be getting everyone infected," Rhodes-Courter said.

Cruise ship concern

A Japanese official said the government saw no risk of the virus being spread by the ship's ventilation system.

Paul Hunter, an expert in infectious disease at Britain's University of East Anglia, said the potential for cruise ships spreading the epidemic across the world was becoming a serious concern.

"Cruise ships are environments where respiratory infections can spread very quickly," he said.

They also carry the risk of transmitting a viral infection to other countries as passengers embark and disembark.

"I would be surprised if we don't see more problems with cruise ships in the coming weeks," Hunter said.

Transport Minister Kazuyoshi Akaba told reporters Japan had asked another cruise ship, the Westerdam, not to make a port call in the country.

The governor of the US island territory of Guam, in the Pacific Ocean, on Friday rejected a US State Department request to allow the Westerdam to dock there.

- RNZ / Reuters

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