Japan to let off last healthy cruise travelers, isolate rest

Japan’s Health Minister Katsunobu Kato speaks during a press briefing at the ministry in Tokyo on February 20, 2020. (File/AFP)
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Updated 21 February 2020

Japan to let off last healthy cruise travelers, isolate rest

  • The ship docked at a Yokohama port has the most COVID-19 cases outside of China, with 634 confirmed by late Thursday
  • Six government quarantine workers contracted the virus, raising questions about the protective measures used

TOKYO: Japan’s health minister said the last cruise ship passengers who tested negative for a new virus will leave the Diamond Princess on Friday after a much-criticized quarantine of the vessel ended.

The ship docked at a Yokohama port has the most COVID-19 cases outside of China, with 634 confirmed by late Thursday. Two former passengers have died.

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told a news conference the mass disembarkation into Japan of passengers from the ship is set to end Friday, while dozens of foreign passengers are flying back to their home countries on flights chartered by their governments.

Most crew members and other passengers who have not completed their 14-day quarantines because they had more recent contact with infected people are staying on the ship for now, but they will be transported to a government facility to be quarantined in isolation.

Japan is discussing with the ship operator and home countries of foreign crew members over their future movements, he said.

Japan’s government has been questioned over its decision to keep people quarantined on the ship, given the tight quarters and the difficulty of isolating sick people from the healthy.

Six government quarantine workers contracted the virus, raising questions about the protective measures used.

The two fatalities, a man and woman who were both Japanese and in their 80s, were believed to have been infected before health checks and a Feb. 5 quarantine began on the ship, Health Ministry official Masami Sakoi said. It was not immediately known if they had any roommates on the ship.

The new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 has sickened tens of thousands of people, mostly in central China’s Hubei province.

The US and other countries have put former Diamond Princess passengers in second quarantines.

Australia said two passengers tested positive after they returned home. Kato said Australia, like the US, brought home a mixture of passengers who tested negative and others who were not tested and had an unknown status, therefore it was difficult to know when or how they had contracted the virus.

Kato said passengers who returned home on the US and Australian flights did so before completing the Japanese quarantine process, and that Japan’s ongoing disembarkation of passengers is still adequate.


Beating lockdown inertia: French city-dwellers keep fit on balconies

Updated 28 March 2020

Beating lockdown inertia: French city-dwellers keep fit on balconies

  • France has been under virtual lockdown since March 17
  • The outbreak has killed about 2,000 people in France and sickened 33,000 others, according to official numbers

NANTES, France: As dusk fell over Nantes in western France, dozens of residents of an apartment block came out onto their balconies for a half-hour fitness session to beat the inertia of life under lockdown while the coronavirus sweeps across the country.
Music pumped out as the group put itself through a routine of star jumps, squats and jogging on the spot. The workout caught on after Pierre Planchenaud began exercising alone. Before long, his neighbors wanted to join in.
“It meant everyone could relax after a day where you stay shut up indoors or in isolation,” said Planchenaud, who works in advertising. “It enables people to have a bit of freedom and take their minds off things.”
France has been under virtual lockdown since March 17 and on Friday Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the unprecedented peacetime restrictions on public life would remain in place until at least April 15. The outbreak has killed about 2,000 people in France and sickened 33,000 others, according to official numbers.
Public gatherings are banned, schools and universities are closed and all non-essential businesses have shut down, with people allowed out of their homes only to buy groceries, carry out essential work, exercise or seek medical care.
Stress caused by fear of the disease is compounded by isolation, mental health experts say, and the French government has reported a marked increase in domestic violence during the lockdown.
“We started last night and we’re having a great time with the family. It’s cool,” said firefighter resident Guillaume Ricquier.
Planchenaud leads the workout from a central courtyard, with the makeshift class wrapping up just in time to join others nationwide clapping and cheering in support of the health care workers battling to save the lives of coronavirus sufferers.
“It brings a new energy,” said osteopath Laura Martinez. “We said last night it needs to keep going after the lockdown.”