COVID-19: ‘Second quarantine’ detains SA crew members in Japan

By Estelle Ellis 28 February 2020

The Diamond Princess cruise ship, which was quarantined amid the ongoing epidemic of the COVID-19 disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. (EPA-EFE/Franck Robichon)

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases is to remain on high alert for imported COVID-19 cases as two crew members tested positive for virus in Japan.

Two South African crew members on the Princess Diamond cruise ship who tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, and 10 other crew members, are likely to remain in quarantine in Japan after that government ordered a “second quarantine” for crew members who had not been evacuated by their home countries.

South African’s Ministry of Health released a statement on Friday saying that “at this stage, it is most appropriate that the COVID-19 confirmed South African citizens should be treated in Japan until they are fully recovered from the virus and are no longer contagious before they travel further”.

The cruise ship arrived in the Japanese port of Yokohama with 3,700 people on board and on 1 February, 2020 it was announced that a patient who had disembarked in Hong Kong five days earlier had tested positive for COVID-19.

The ship was subsequently placed under quarantine until 19 February when, according to the Department of Health, the South African government was informed that there were 12 South Africans on board with two having tested positive for the virus and currently receiving medical treatment.

Government communicators have not yet responded to questions as to what will be happening to the other 10 who tested negative.

According to a statement by the Princess Cruise line company they are setting up a “second quarantine” in Japan with Aspen Medical, a WHO-certified company, to provide team members, who have not been evacuated by their governments, with care during this quarantine that has been ordered by the Japanese government.

“Currently, there are fewer than 500 team members on board, with some awaiting government charter flights. For those team members who will not depart by government charter flights, we have finalised plans with the Japan Ministry of Health for a quarantine facility in Japan. Princess Cruises has hired Aspen Medical, an award-winning and WHO-certified company with extensive global experience in delivering public health services, to provide team members with health and well-being care during a quarantine at a land-based center in Japan.

“This secondary quarantine is required by the Japan Ministry of Health, out of an abundance of caution, to ensure the health and well-being of each team member.

“Aspen Medical will be operating under the direction of the Japan Ministry of Health, which is ultimately responsible for the quarantine,” the statement read.

To date 705 passengers and crew members aboard the ship have tested positive for the virus.

“The shipping company has indicated that the disembarkation of passengers is a priority and that crew members will be allowed to disembark after all passengers have disembarked. The cruise ship represents a unique situation in that a large number of people found themselves exposed to COVID-19 in a confined space leading to the highest rate of infection in the world,” the statement by the Ministry of Health read.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said in a statement on Friday that they noted the case of the two South Africans who tested positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the Princess Diamond cruise ship in Japan.

“We confirm that these citizens are currently being treated in Japan and are in good care. The Department of International Relations and Cooperation and the Department of Health are in constant contact with the individuals and the Japanese authorities.

“To date, there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in South Africa, and the institute continues to test for possible cases,” the statement read.

According to the NICD they are noting the continued spread of COVID-19 in other parts of the world and the decrease in the number of transmissions in China.

“The African Region has recorded a new positive case of COVID-19 in Nigeria on 27 February. Given these recent developments globally and in Africa, it is not unlikely that we will have importation of COVID-19 to South Africa. As such, we continue to monitor trends of COVID-19 globally and in the African region to improve our knowledge of the disease and to continually enhance our surveillance and response,” the statement concluded. MC


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