Around 3,000 people quarantined on a cruise ship in Yokohama due to the novel coronavirus outbreak onboard the ship will start disembarking as planned on Wednesday, according to Japan's health minister.
Japanese Minister of Health, Labor, and Welfare Katsunobu Kato told a press conference on Tuesday that samples had been collected from all the remaining passengers and crew aboard the virus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship, adding that the process of allowing them to leave should be completed by Friday.
Anyone whose latest samples test negative will be allowed to leave the ship with no other conditions, while those infected, or who test positive will be required to be hospitalized, said the minister.
The cruise ship was carrying around 3,700 passengers and crew from around 56 countries. The number of infections among those aboard increased by 88 on Tuesday, bringing the total to 542.
The ship has been kept in quarantine off the port of Yokohama after a passenger from Hong Kong was found to be infected.
The 80-year-old passenger flew to Tokyo in mid-January and boarded the ship on Jan 20. He de-boarded the ship on Feb 25 and went to hospital six days later after leaving the ship.
According to local media reports, passengers have been largely confined to their cabins, although they have been allowed to spend some time on the deck while being monitored by the staff. Crew members, however, are sharing cabins and are required to move around the ship more frequently, which has posed a problem for health officials.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, on Tuesday, told a press conference that the measures to keep the passengers and crew on board the virus-hit vessel for a two-week quarantine was "appropriate."
As for Japan's overall situation, Kato said the country is seeing an increase of cases "in which the route of transmission is not immediately known."
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, meanwhile, has reportedly instructed his ruling Liberal Democratic Party to think about postponing or reducing the size of its annual general meeting, which was originally scheduled for March 8.