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Of the more than 1,000 coronavirus cases outside mainland China, 634 have been diagnosed in Diamond Princess passengers, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday. Two Japanese citizens have died.
An infectious-diseases expert said the hygiene conditions on the cruise ship were abysmal, making him "so scared" of contracting COVID-19.
Despite being at the center of the coronavirus outbreak, the ship's operator Princess Cruises plans to return the vessel to service before Japan's Golden Week in April. It will be "fully sanitized" before setting sail again, but it's unclear what the process looks like.
The Diamond Princess cruise ship now houses more than half of all coronavirus cases outside mainland China, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.
The cruise ship has been quarantined in Japan's Yokohama Bay since February 3, and 634 passengers have contracted the illness. Two people from the ship — an 87-year-old Japanese man and an 84-year-old Japanese woman — died on Tuesday, Japanese officials reported.
Beijing's National Health Commission said on Wednesday that there are more than 74,500 coronavirus patients in mainland China, and some 2,118 people are dead. Outside China, 1,076 coronavirus cases have been reported in 26 countries, the WHO tweeted.
This update comes on the heels of infectious-diseases expert Kentaro Iwata criticizing the cleanliness level — or lack thereof — aboard the Diamond Princess. Upon visiting the vessel, Iwata described the abysmal hygiene conditions and infection controls that had made him "so scared" of contracting the coronavirus.
—World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) February 20, 2020
Despite being front and center in the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the ship's operator Princess Cruises says it'll be business as usual from April 29— after the vessel has been cleaned — in time for Japan's Golden Week holidays, the Wall Street Journal reported.
"The expectation is that the ship would be fully sanitized and then taken into dry dock for a period of time," said Negin Kamali, public-relations director for Princess Cruises. She said the 116,000-ton cruise liner will stay in Japan, where it was constructed. It remains unclear what the cleaning process looks like for a ship that has been home to ill passengers.
According to the Wall Street Journal, bouts of sicknesses, such as gastrointestinal illnesses, show up occasionally on cruise ships. But they don't prevent ships from being kept in service due to the large investment each vessel represents.
"Normal practice in the case of norovirus or Legionnaires' disease is to pinpoint and isolate the source of the illness, then cancel or postpone the next cruise and thoroughly disinfect the ship from top to bottom once all the passengers are off," Andrew Coggins, a cruise expert at Pace University in New York, told the Journal.
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Carnival Corp. owns Princess Cruises as well as Holland America Line, which operates the Westerdam, another cruise ship that's been impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. The Westerdam was stranded at sea for nearly two weeks as five ports denied it entry before Cambodia allowed it to dock on February 13. Since then, all guests and crew members have tested negative for the illness, and have been given the green light to travel internationally.
Neither Princess Cruises nor Holland America Line replied to Insider's request for comment.
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