TOKYO — Japan’s government said two more government officials working on board the Diamond Princess had fallen sick with the new coronavirus, bringing to six the number of support staff who have contracted covid-19 and reinforcing concerns about inadequate infection controls on board the cruise ship.
The latest cases were a Health Ministry official in his 40s, and an official from the cabinet office in his 30s, both of whom fell sick with fevers on Feb. 18, between six and seven days after starting work on board the boat.
Earlier the government reported that a quarantine officer, a Health Ministry official, an ambulance driver and a medical staffer had all fallen sick after entering the boat or dealing with infected passengers or crew.
A leading infectious disease expert published a damning video this week after visiting the ship, complaining of chaotic and scary conditions on board, and a “completely inadequate” system to control the spread of the virus.
The video received well over a million views, and became a major embarrassment for the government. On Thursday, Kentaro Iwata of Kobe University removed his video from YouTube, saying it had served its purpose, that procedures had since been improved and leaving it up any longer would be “divisive.”
The government vigorously pushed back against the criticism, with the Health Ministry insisting infection control experts had been involved in establishing proper infection control measures on board the ship, including proper zoning between areas where protective suits are needed and areas free of the virus. It denies forcing Iwata to remove his video.
But the latest test results showing two more officials fell sick will reinforce the impression that Iwata’s criticisms were valid, and may raise the question of whether people who worked on board the ship should themselves be placed in quarantine.
The Health Ministry said both officials diagnosed with the virus wore gloves and masks while carrying out their duties.
At least 65 crew members are among the 621 people who have contracted the virus on board the ship. The Japanese government says its data analysis shows that most of the passengers who contracted the virus did so before the quarantine was imposed on Feb. 5, apart from people who shared cabins with infected people.
That shows, it said, that the quarantine was effective.
But it acknowledged that crew members apparently continued to pass the virus to each other during the quarantine period, noting that it was not possible to isolate them from each other as they needed to keep working to maintain the ship’s operations.
The crew will have to undergo a further quarantine period.
On Thursday, Japan continued to allow passengers to disembark from the ship and rejoin the general population provided they have tested negative for the virus.
The United States and other nations take a different view about the effectiveness of the quarantine, insisting that their citizens from the ship undergo a further 14-day quarantine period in their home countries.
On Thursday, Japan said two passengers from the cruise ship had died, a man and a woman both in their 80s who had contracted the virus on board the vessel.