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Passengers on cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama struggle with health, environment

Pieces of cloth showing messages apparently written by passengers are hung on the side of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, in Yokohama's Tsurumi Ward, on Feb. 10, 2020.(Mainichi/Nao Ikeda)

More and more people aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in the eastern Japan city of Yokohama are suffering from deteriorating health, though the actual extent of the coronavirus outbreak on the vessel remains unknown.

Of the 3,711 passengers and crew, more than 130 individuals had tested positive for the new pneumonia-causing virus. People are calling for improvements in their living environment and demanding medicine and commodities, which are running out due to their lengthy ordeal.

On the evening of Feb. 10, large pieces of cloth showing messages apparently written by passengers were seen hung on the side of the Diamond Princess cruise ship. Some of them read, "Help us," "It's OK to make deliveries," and, "We can receive broadcasts (but not TV)."

Eitaro Hayashi, a passenger from the western Japan city of Kobe, said, "A staff member waits outside of the rooms on each floor, and when you open the door at a time you're not allowed to, you get a warning. It's like we're under confinement, and we are stressed out. I want to get off as soon as possible." The 79-year-old says the only time he can relax is when he goes out on the deck with his wife, which he is allowed to do for an hour in the morning.

"Our bed sheets haven't been changed for nearly a week, and the rooms haven't been cleaned," Tadashi Chida, leader of an emergency network formed by passengers, told the Mainichi Shimbun by phone. The group on Feb. 10 submitted a written request to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare demanding an improvement in the ship's environment.

According to Chida, even when a passenger developed a fever of around 38 degrees Celsius, the doctor only took test samples of their saliva in their room, and they were left untreated. "Every day, a new patient is transported in an ambulance. Our source of information is limited, and we are growing more anxious," he said.

The health ministry initially judged that only 273 passengers were suspected to have been infected with the virus, and by Feb. 7 finished testing them. However, each time another person complained of feeling unwell, the ministry carried out tests on a wider range of people. The ministry expects "more people to get infected" in the future.

On Feb. 7, a doctor who manages emergency responses at the World Health Organization, said "it's a vicious circle" with more people becoming infected on the ship and the prolonging quarantine period.

Although another 60 plus passengers have tested positive for the coronavirus, rooms at medical institutions to treat those infected with the new virus are running scarce in Kanagawa Prefecture south of Tokyo. "It's near the limit," said a representative of the prefectural government.

Providing medicine to those with chronic diseases, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, is the top priority on the list of support that should be offered to passengers. Many of the people onboard are elderly. According to the operator of the ship and other sources, passengers have told them medicine including insulin for patients with diabetes is needed for 1,850 people. However, medicine for just 750 people was delivered to the vessel as of Feb, 9, ministry officials said. As of the same day, 11 people had disembarked from the ship for illnesses other than the coronavirus.

(Japanese original by Sooryeon Kim, Lifestyle and Medical News Department; Nao Ikeda, Yokohama Bureau; and Yujiro Futamura, City News Department)

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