Thirty-nine more patients have been confirmed Wednesday with the Wuhan coronavirus from the cruise ship at anchor in the Yokohama Port, showing a rapid increase in the number of cases from 10 on February 5 to 175 in just one week. There are some 3,700 passengers on board from 56 countries, including 1,200 Japanese and 14 South Korean nationals – nine passengers and five crew members.
It has been reported that the South Koreans on the cruise ship have not infected yet, which is why some call for quick repatriation of them to their home country. However, the South Korean government announced that there is no such plan in place at the moment on Tuesday on the grounds that the Japanese government is taking appropriate steps and it is too soon to discuss repatriation as infectious diseases are to be controlled and treated in original locations in principle.
The Japanese government was notified that the first patient boarded and later got off the cruise ship on February 7, but had not restricted the movement of passengers for several days failing to control the spread of the virus. Due to some confusion about testing all passengers, only those who have symptoms or have come in close contact with confirmed patients are tested. Moreover, the Japanese government is not aggregating the number of confirmed cases in the cruise ship as part of its domestically-infected patients based on the concern that doing so will put the country in the second most infected country after China, causing damage to its tourism and economy.
Over 1,000 crew members are still preparing meals for passengers in small spaces and sharing bathrooms while the number of infected cases continues to soar. There may be a barrier between the ship and the land, but on-board infections are highly neglected. As can be seen in the strong criticism in Japanese society and an Indian crew member requesting rescue to the Indian Prime Minister, both passengers and crew are going through dangerous and difficult times.
The South Korean government should urge the Japanese government to take more proactive measures to protect its citizens and pursue the repatriation of the South Koreans in the case that the Japanese actions are inadequate. The South Korean government noted that other countries also have not put forward a repatriation plan and is concerned about the spread of the virus during the transfer process. However, South Korea can be more proactive given its highly capable medical system. The principle of controlling the disease in original locations can be kept only when appropriate measures are taken. Simply monitoring through a consulate is too passive considering that South Korean citizens are left in the cruise ship without getting tested.