David and Sally Abel, a British couple aboard the Diamond Princess cruise liner in Japan, have tested positive for coronavirus, a day before passengers who tested negative were due to start leaving the ship after spending two weeks in quarantine.
Abel, who has uploaded daily videos from the couple’s cabin on social media, said in a Facebook post message on Tuesday afternoon local time: “There is going to be a time of quiet. We have been proved positive and leaving for hospital soon. Blessings all xxx.”
The Abels’ diagnosis came as the British government said it was preparing to send a plane to Japan to repatriate about 70 British nationals from the ship, which has been moored off Yokohama, near Tokyo, since 3 February. The vessel, originally carrying 3,700 passengers and crew, was quarantined after a previous passenger tested positive for Covid-19 at the end of last month.
Abel has used his video posts to apply pressure on Britain to evacuate its citizens. The US has evacuated more than 300 citizens, while Australia, Hong Kong, South Korea and Canada have said they will follow suit.
“Given the conditions on board, we are working to organise a flight back to the UK for British nationals on the Diamond Princess as soon as possible,” a foreign office statement said. “Our staff are contacting British nationals on board to make the necessary arrangements. We urge all those who have not yet responded to get in touch immediately.”
Japanese health authorities said Tuesday they had collected samples from everyone on the ship and that the planned evacuation of passengers who tested negative would begin as scheduled on Wednesday and be completed by the end of the week.
By Monday, 454 people on the ship had tested positive, but the final number of infections onboard had not been announced as of Tuesday afternoon. Four Britons with confirmed coronavirus are currently in hospital in Japan, according to the latest official figures.
“Some results have already come out … and for those whose test results are already clear, we are working to prepare disembarkation from the 19th,” Katsunobu Kato, the health minister, told reporters.
Among the remaining passengers, those who test negative will be allowed to leave freely while those found to be infected will be treated at hospitals in Japan. The same measures will apply to the crew, according to the Kyodo news agency. However, people who had close contact with those who have tested positive will have their quarantine reset to the date of their last contact with an infected person.
The large number of cases aboard the Diamond Princess has prompted criticism of Japan’s decision to keep everyone on the ship throughout the two-week quarantine. But the government’s top spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, told reporters Tuesday that the measure had been “appropriate.”
From Justin McCurry in Tokyo:
Japan is to trial HIV antiretroviral drugs to treat people with coronavirus, the government said on Tuesday, as the number of infections in the country reached 520, including 454 cases onboard the Diamond Princess cruise liner.
Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary, said the government was “currently conducting preparations so that clinical trials using HIV medication on the novel coronavirus can start as soon as possible”.
Suga said he couldn’t comment on how long it would take for the new drug to be approved.
Doctors in Thailand said they appeared to have had some success in treating severe cases of the coronavirus with a combination of influenza medication and HIV antivirals lopinavir and ritonavir.
Thai doctors used an lopinavir-ritonavir combination along with the flu drug oseltamivir – also known as Tamiflu – to treat a Chinese coronavirus patient in her 70s, the Thai ministry of public health said in a report this month, according to Japan’s Nikkei Asian Review.
The woman’s condition had not improved 10 days after she was diagnosed, but she recovered within 48 hours of being treated with the combination of HIV and flu drugs, the report said.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office said on Tuesday morning that it would evacuate citizens from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, and urged travellers who wish to be flown home to contact officials, writes Rebecca Ratcliffe, our south-east Asia correspondent.
More than 450 passengers onboard the ship have now been infected with the virus – the biggest cluster of cases outside of mainland China.
In a statement, the FCO said:
Given the conditions on board, we are working to organise a flight back to the UK for British nationals on the Diamond Princess as soon as possible. Our staff are contacting British nationals on board to make the necessary arrangements. We urge all those who have not yet responded to get in touch immediately.
The British government has come under mounting pressure to fly citizens back from the UK, with several other countries already announcing plans to do so. The US flew more than 300 American citizens out on Sunday, 14 of whom tested positive for the virus before getting on the plane. Passengers onboard the ship have been mostly confined to their cabins since 3 February.
Affected British nationals should call the British Embassy in Tokyo on +81 3 5211 1100, the FCO said.
In Japan, our correspondent Justin McCurry reports on how the outbreak has disrupted the planned celebrations of the emperor’s 60th birthday.
Birthday celebrations for Japan’s new emperor have become the latest victim of the coronavirus outbreak. The imperial household agency said Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako would not appear in public to mark his 60th birthday on Sunday due to concerns over the possible spread of the virus among large groups of people. The event regularly attracts tens of thousands of people to the inner grounds of the imperial palace in Tokyo.
Naruhito’s birthday address would have been his first since he ascended the Chrysanthemum throne on 1 May after his father, Akihito, became the first Japanese emperor to abdicate in more than 200 years.
The emperor’s birthday is a rare opportunity for the public to see senior members of the imperial family at the palace. Naruhito and Masako were due to greet well-wishers from a palace balcony three times on Sunday, along with the crown prince and his family.
“We made the decision to cancel the public event at the palace, which is attended every year by many people in close proximity, after considering the risk of the virus spreading,” Kenji Ikeda, the vice grand steward of the agency, said at a press conference, according to the Kyodo news agency. The last time the emperor’s birthday celebration was cancelled was 1996, amid a hostage crisis at the Japanese embassy in Peru.
The agency’s decision to scrap the celebrations comes after Japan’s health minister, Katsunobu Kato, said people should avoid crowds and non-essential gatherings. “We want to ask the public to avoid non-urgent, non-essential gatherings,” Kato said. “We want elderly and those with pre-existing conditions to avoid crowded places.”