The Diamond Princess cruise ship has been hot on the news lately what with more than 620 of its passengers having been infected with COVID-19 according to The Japan Times. The liner has been quarantined since February 3 with around 3,700 people onboard.

Today, it was announced that two passengers on board the coronavirus-hit ship – a woman and a man in their 80s – have died. After the first batch of passengers who tested negative left the ship on Wednesday, a second group of people from the ship started disembarking today after being quarantined for two weeks. There is no news on how many people are still on board or when the disembarkation will be completed.

Japan’s Health Ministry has reassured the public that in order to keep the virus contained, all of the passengers have been required to stay inside of their cabins since February 5.

Various foreigners have had to remain in quarantine for two more weeks, but the Japanese passengers who disembarked did not face any restrictions. According to Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID), there shouldn’t be any issues if people tested negative and did not show any symptoms for two weeks.

Kentaro Iwata, a Japanese infectious disease specialist from Kobe University, initially reprimanded the government’s response in a YouTube video that was viewed more than 300,000 times in 24 hours. He has since taken down the video, stating on Twitter that “there is no need to discuss this any further”. He also apologised to everyone involved. In a press conference, he explained that he took down his video after hearing that the ship’s conditions had improved.

In the video, Iwata shared his experience after entering the Diamond Princess cruise ship and being removed from it on the same day. He recounted that an officer at the Ministry of Health and Labour granted him access to the ship, so he prepared to go. There was a lot of back and forth on how he could enter the ship, but he eventually made it in.

Iwata shared that he looked at several places in the ship and was shocked to see that it was completely inadequate in terms of infection control. “There was no distinction between the Green Zone, which is free of infection, and the Red Zone, which is potentially contaminated by virus,” he said. Everyone was just basically walking around and eating in one place with very little or no protection. “It was completely chaotic!” he exclaimed.

Despite having dealt with many infections throughout 20 years, including the Ebola outbreak, the cholera outbreak, and SARS; Iwata admitted that he feared getting infected with COVID-19 on board the Diamond Princess ship. “I was so scared of getting COVID-19 because there was no way to tell where the virus was,” he explained. “No green zone. No red zone. The virus could be everywhere and no one was careful about it. There was no single professional infection control person inside the ship and that there was nobody in charge of infection prevention as a professional.”

Iwata shared that he gave his comments and suggestions before being removed from the ship. “I hope this will be an opportunity to raise questions on what is happening in the ship,” he said.

“I wish all of the international bodies to request Japan to change. I wish for everybody to call for protection of people inside the Diamond Princess. Otherwise, there will be far more infections for everyone on the ship and everybody they deal with at work and at home. I can’t bear it. I think we have to change. We have to do something about the crew and we have to help people inside the ship for their safety and their lives.”

Header Image from Reuters.