The number of coronavirus cases on a cruise ship currently docked in Yokohama, Japan has dramatically risen by 65, bringing the total number of cases linked to the passenger vessel to 135, according to Japan’s NHK News.
The startling figure was announced Monday as the worldwide death toll from the novel coronavirus reached 910, and the number of confirmed cases skyrocketed to over 40,000. China recorded 97 new deaths from the virus on Sunday alone, the highest number for a single day since the outbreak began in December.
The Japanese cruise ship, known as the Diamond Princess, was put under quarantine when it reached Japan on February 3, forcing all 3,711 people on board to stay in their rooms. The ship was flagged as a potential carrier of the novel coronavirus after an 80-year-old passenger disembarked from the cruise in Hong Kong and later tested positive for the virus.
Just 10 people initially tested positive for the coronavirus when it first docked, but Japanese health authorities are only testing people with symptoms, meaning that the vast majority of those aboard the ship haven’t been examined. Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato has previously said health officials might eventually test all 3,711 people, though a final decision hasn’t yet been announced. A group of infectious disease experts will reportedly conduct a survey of the ship on Tuesday, according to NHK News.
People on the ship with confirmed cases are being brought on shore, leading to ominous photos distributed through social media showing dozens of ambulances waiting for infected passengers. Authorities have struggled to provide passengers in quarantine with basic things, including over 600 people who have requested prescription medication, often for elderly passengers. At least one passenger started flying a banner on the side of the ship that reads “shortage of medicine” in Japanese.
The ship’s original manifest included 2,666 passengers from 56 countries, along with 1,045 crewmembers. Binay Kumar Sarkar, an Indian crew member on the Japanese ship, posted a video to Facebook on Monday asking the Indian government for help, and people from other countries have also asked their governments not to forget about them. Roughly half of the passengers are over the age of 70 and are naturally concerned about their health.
“There seem to be reports that things are ok but that is far from reality” one passenger told NHK News. “Counseling services only available in English. Steak for dinner, which many of the elderly can’t eat. The situation is bad.”
The cruise ship was scheduled to be under a 14-day quarantine starting, but it’s not yet clear whether the quarantine will need to be extended. Many health officials in China believe that the incubation period for the virus may be as long as 14 days but if someone contracted the virus from another passenger later the virus may be able to spread after the original 14-day quarantine has expired. Officially, the quarantine is scheduled to end on February 19 for most passengers.
Another concern right now for the public health community is the presence of so-called “super-spreaders” who are able to infect large numbers of people. One potential super-spreader in Wuhan has reportedly infected as many as 57 people.
The illness, which Chinese health authorities have given the temporary name NCP for “novel coronavirus pneumonia,” reached a macabre milestone over the weekend, surpassing the number of people killed by the SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003. SARS infected 8,098 people and killed 774 worldwide. And while the mortality rate for the coronavirus is much lower, that means it’s also able to spread more easily.
China’s president Xi Jinping, who has made very few public appearances since the start of the outbreak, toured Beijing on Monday and said that the situation was still “severe” in the country. Notably, Xi was wearing a surgical mask, rather than an N95 or P2 mask which filters 95 per cent of particulate matter.
The U.S. has confirmed just 12 cases of the coronavirus though no one has died in the country. An American citizen died in Wuhan, China from the virus, which was announced on Saturday. The American was reportedly a 60-year-old woman with underlying health conditions, something that would not be surprising to health researchers. According to the World Health Organisation, roughly 80 per cent of deaths from the coronavirus have been in people over the age of 60 and most have underlying health problems.