A Japanese disease expert has branded the Diamond Princess quarantine a ‘major failure’, ‘completely inadequate’ and a ‘mistake’ as he slammed the ‘bureaucrats’ in charge.
Kentaro Iwata said the situation on board the vessel was worse than previous outbreaks he had dealt with in the past, such as Ebola in Africa and the 2003 SARS crisis in China.
The professor said in a YouTube video that on board the Diamond Princess was the only time he feared getting infected himself.
He placed himself in a 14-day quarantine for fear of infecting his family after a brief visit on board the ship yesterday.
The Kobe University infectious diseases expert said conditions on the ship were ‘completely chaotic’ and violated quarantine rules.
His video has racked up more than a million views amid a barrage of criticism of Japanese authorities after 542 people were infected during the lockdown.
Some 74 Britons were quarantined on the cruise vessel in Japan as a total of 621 cases of the the virus were diagnosed on board.
Ambulance cars leaving from the Diamond Princess cruise ship at the Daikoku pier in Yokohama, sububan Tokyo, on Tuesday
A passenger of Diamond Princess leaving Daikoku Pier. About 500 passengers who have tested negative for the coronavirus were allowed to disembark the cruise ship on Wednesday after 14 days quarantine period
Medical workers outside the a cruise ship yesterday. A total 542 passengers and crews have found to be infected on the ship
Around 500 holidaymakers who had tested negative were allowed to leave the ship this morning.
British nationals due to be rescued from the cruise ship via a flight from Tokoyo will be housed in Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral upon their return to the UK.
The ship docked in Yokohama on February 3 and Japan has been criticised for its handling of the quarantine, including by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Japan has also faced wider criticism after the number of infections on the mainland reached 74, including one of only four fatalities outside China.
But Iwata’s criticism is some of the most scathing yet.
‘The cruise ship was completely inadequate in terms of infection control,’ said Iwata in videos which he posted in English and Japanese last night.
He said: ‘There was no distinction between the green zone, which is free of infection, and the red zone, which is potentially contaminated by the virus.
‘I was in Africa dealing with the Ebola outbreak. I was in other countries dealing with the cholera outbreak. I was in China in 2003 to deal with SARS…I never had fear of getting infection myself.
‘But inside Diamond Princess, I was so scared… because there was no way to tell where the virus is.’
A bus leaves the Diamond Princess today after more than 500 people were infected during a two-week lockdown, sparking fierce criticism from disease experts
A worker wearing a protective suit standing next to a bus carrying passengers, who will board the Qantas aircraft chartered by the Australian government, from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship drive at Haneda airport today
Mr Iwata said he had boarded the ship because he ‘wanted to be useful in helping’ to contain the virus.
He relayed his concerns to officials on the boat and was later told to leave the site, he said.
His criticism has made waves in a country where unvarnished criticism is rare in officialdom and academia, and Iwata fears he could face professional repercussions for his public rebuke.
He said he posted the videos at the urging of his wife, who is also an infectious disease specialist and said it was his professional duty to get the word out.
But Japanese officials defended their approach, insisting that many of the infections took place before the quarantine began.
Shigeru Omi, a former WHO regional head advising the government, said the quarantine had ‘a very positive effect’ on reducing infections.
‘(The) majority of the infections, we believe, occurred before the date when the quarantine measures started,’ he told reporters.
That does not appear to have convinced foreign governments, many of whom have lost patience with Japan and airlifted their citizens out.
When asked about the videos, government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said staff on the boat were thoroughly protected from infection through the use of masks and hand washing.
Disease expert Kentaro Iwata (pictured) said he had placed himself in a 14-day quarantine for fear of infecting his family after a brief visit on board the ship yesterday
Japan’s health Minister Katsunobu Kato has also defended the government’s approach.
‘Expert doctors who are members of an infection prevention team are supervising inside the ship,’ he said in response to questions from opposition lawmakers.
‘If symptoms develop, of course not only that person but also those who had close contact with the person are told to refrain from serving, and workers follow rules such as wearing masks and putting on gloves,’ he added.
‘According to experts, the infection is under control.’
Michael Ryan, head of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, acknowledged there ‘has been much more transmission than expected on the ship’.
But, he added, ‘it is very easy in retrospect to make judgements on public health decisions made at a certain point’.
A passenger wearing a face mask drags two items of luggage with him after leaving the Diamond Princess in Japan today
Richard Koo, chief economist at Nomura Research Institute, has warned that coronavirus could cause a ‘substantial amount of economic damage in Japan’ more widely, according to Bloomberg.
‘The Japanese government’s decision to wait for the China-friendly WHO to make its much-delayed declaration of a global health emergency led to the first cases of domestic person-to-person transmission and tarnished the country’s international reputation,’ he said.
Japan has announced plans to use HIV drugs to combat the virus as the growing number of cases poses an increasing threat to the world’s third-largest economy.
With Japan’s economy contracting, raising the risk of a recession, the spread of the coronavirus has prompted Tokyo to put limits on public crowds.
In addition, some companies have begun to urge employees to work from home.
Central banks across the region have already begun slashing interest rates to help ease credit as tourism arrivals plunge.