By Ju-min Park and Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) – Another 39 people have tested positive for the coronavirus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Japan, with one quarantine officer also infected, bringing the total to 175, the health ministry said on Wednesday.
The Diamond Princess was placed in quarantine for two weeks on arriving in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, on Feb. 3, after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong was diagnosed with the virus.
The epidemic originated in mainland China, where more than 1,100 people have now died of the virus.
It is looking like an increasing economic threat for Japan, where manufacturers are reliant on Chinese companies for parts, and shops and hotels dependent on Chinese tourists.
About 3,700 people are on board the cruise ship, which usually has a crew of 1,100 and a passenger capacity of 2,670. Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said in parliament that he wanted to expand testing to all passengers and crew on board, and that authorities could muster resources to do more than 1,000 tests a day, according to national broadcaster NHK.
The British-flagged Diamond Princess is managed by Princess Cruise Lines, one of the world’s largest cruise lines and a unit of Carnival Corp <CCL.N>.
Kyodo news agency, citing the health ministry, said that of the 39 cases, 10 were crew and 29 were passengers.
Ten were Japanese nationals and the others were from 11 countries, including the United States and China. Four were in serious condition, Kato said.
People who test positive for the virus are taken off the ship to hospital.
The quarantine officer who was infected had been handing out questionnaires checking the health of passengers and crew and had been following rules that require the wearing of a mask and gloves but not a full protective suit, according to the Nikkei business daily, quoting the health ministry.
A health ministry official had no immediate comment, but Nikkei said the ministry was checking the officer’s contacts with colleagues and family members.
The government has decided on a 500 billion yen ($4.5 billion) emergency package of loans and guarantees to help small businesses, particularly in tourism and smaller manufacturers, the Nikkei newspaper reported.
S&P Global Ratings said the outbreak would likely damage the operating performance of Japanese companies in the first half, especially automobile manufacturers that are likely to face a prolonged halt in operations in China.
“The impact might be harsh on Nissan Motor and Honda Motor,” the rating agency said in a note.
About 80% of the ship passengers were aged 60 or over, with 215 in their 80s and 11 in the 90s, the Japan Times newspaper reported.
Japan has sent four chartered flights to China’s Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, for its citizens there to return, and plans a fifth. The 197 people who returned on the first chartered flight tested negative, the health ministry said.
(Reporting by Chris Gallagher, Ju-min Park, Ami Miyazaki, Elaine Lies and David Dolan; Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell, Gerry Doyle, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Nick Macfie)