Hundreds of passengers trundled off a cruise ship in Japan on Wednesday after being held on board in quarantine for more than two weeks, as criticism mounted of Japan’s handling of the biggest coronavirus outbreak outside China.
Even as passengers rolled their luggage off the Diamond Princess cruise liner, Japanese authorities announced 79 new cases had been discovered on board, bringing the total above 620, well over half of the known cases outside mainland China.
Some 500 passengers were expected to disembark in the coming hours after the start of an operation that authorities say could take up to three days as test results are processed.
Yellow-dotted city buses, plus a dozen or so taxis, were lined up to whisk away the passengers, many of them dragging their luggage behind them and waving to former ship-mates on balconies.
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The ship is the biggest cluster outside China, where new figures showed the death toll surging beyond 2,000 with more than 74,000 infected. Hundreds of more cases have been reported in two dozen countries.
South Korea reported 15 new confirmed cases increasing its total by nearly 50 percent including a cluster of at least 11 centered on the southern city of Daegu. Hong Kong reported a second death.
For the 500 cruise ship passengers disembarking after testing negative, a difficult 14-day quarantine period has come to an end after their dream cruise turned into a nightmare of fear and boredom confined in many cases too small windowless cabins.
Our last deep gratitude to the crews and captain for such amazing care during the epic crisis, we can’t wait to see you again soon on board again, tweeted passenger Yardley Wong, who has been cooped up with her six-year-old son.