Dozens allowed off Japan virus-hit ship have 'symptoms': minister

Pedestrians wearing face masks against the spread of the coronavirus spotted on a street in Tokyo (AFP Photo/Philip FONG) (AFP)
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Dozens of passengers allowed off a coronavirus-stricken ship have developed symptoms including fever and will be asked to take tests for the virus, Japan's health minister said Wednesday.

The news came as another death linked to the virus in Japan was reported and the government urged organisers of major events in the next fortnight to consider cancelling or downsizing them to help curb the spread of infections.

The government has contacted 813 former passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise ship and found "45 people had certain symptoms", Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told parliament.

"We asked all of them (who have symptoms) to see a doctor and to take tests."

Around 970 people were allowed off the boat last week after testing negative for the virus, but several have subsequently been diagnosed with the illness.

Japan has come under increasing pressure over its handling of the crisis on the vessel.

Those allowed off the ship after a 14-day quarantine were asked to stay inside, but no formal measures restricting their movement were imposed.

Opposition lawmakers have blamed the government for failing to implement a fresh 14-day quarantine after the passengers left the cruise ship -- as was required by countries that repatriated citizens from the boat.

Infections have also continued to rise inside Japan, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday said hosting large events should be reconsidered.

"In light of the significant infection risks, we will ask that national sporting or cultural events that will attract large crowds be either cancelled, postponed or downsized for the next two weeks," Abe told a cabinet task force meeting on the outbreak.

- Concerts cancelled -

After the announcement, Nippon Professional Baseball Organization said its unofficial spring games through March 15 would be held in empty stadiums, before the official season opens on March 20.

Some top Japanese musicians, including all-male group Exile and female trio Perfume cancelled concerts, while Tokyo Girls Collection fashion show on Saturday will be held with no audience, according to their organisers.

The virus has also forced professional football, rugby, golf, tennis and other sports to reschedule games or to hold their events with no fans in attendance.

The government has also asked state-operated museums and theatres to consider closing or cancelling shows.

The government has repeatedly said that the coming weeks will be critical in limiting the spread of the virus in Japan.

But its measures have been largely advisory, including recommending that people work from home or commute off-peak.

The recommendations come as the local government in northern Hokkaido announced in its latest update on the virus the death of a local resident, whose name, gender and age were not revealed.

The governor of Hokkaido, where at least 38 people have been diagnosed, said he was requesting local municipalities to close public schools for one week from Thursday.

In Tokyo meanwhile, the regional education board said public high schools may start classes late to spare students travelling on packed commuter trains.

Japan has seen at least 165 infections separate from the outbreak on the cruise ship.

The outbreak has raised fears that the Olympic Games to be hosted in Tokyo this summer could be cancelled, a possibility government officials and organisers have rejected.

"We have not thought about it. We have not heard about it. We have made inquiries, and we were told there is no such plan," Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto told reporters.

"Our basic thinking is to conduct the Olympics and Paralympics as planned. That's our assumption."