Two Aussies evacuated from Japan cruise infected with coronavirus

Canberra: Two Australians evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has been quarantined in a port in Japan, have contracted the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19), a health official said here on Friday.

Out of the six people who were identified as having minor respiratory symptoms and/or fever when they arrived at the quarantine centre outside Darwin, Northern Territory, two have since been tested positive for the virus, Efe news quoted Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy as saying.

Both remain “well” in a separate isolation zone at the facility where the 164 Australians evacuated from the cruise ship arrived on Thursday to begin 14 days of quarantine.

“Given there was continued evidence of spread of infection on board the Diamond Princes in recent days, the development of some positive cases after return to Australia is not unexpected, despite all of the health screening before departure,” Murphy said.

All passengers were screened before leaving the Diamond Princess in Yokohama port and none tested positive for the virus.

They were then screened again on arrival at the air force base in Darwin and again at Manigurr-ma Village in Howard Springs where the quarantine facility – an abandoned mining camp – is located.

The facility is Australia’s second of its kind, after the government said the one at Christmas Island detention centre, holding almost 300 evacuees from the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, was full.

Those quarantined continue to be closely monitored and the health officials are “well prepared for the possibility of people in quarantine becoming unwell,” with the operation posing no risk to the community, Murphy said.

On Thursday, an 87-year-old man and an 84-year-old woman, both of Japanese nationality and with previous health complications, became the first two victims of COVID-19 among the Diamond Princess passengers.

The Diamond Princess lockdown began after an 80-year-old passenger from Hong Kong who boarded the ship for a five-day cruise on January 20 tested positive for the coronavirus on February 1, six days after leaving the ship.

This prompted the Japanese authorities to quarantine the vessel in the Yokohama port.