YOKOHAMA, Japan — Japan’s Health Ministry said a quarantine officer who worked on board the Diamond Princess cruise liner has tested positive for the new coronavirus and been sent to hospital, marking the first case in the country recorded among health service staff.
The officer, from the ministry’s infectious disease quarantine office, worked on the ship on Feb. 3 and 4, as part of a team carrying out a survey of passengers to ascertain who needed to be tested for the virus, collecting questionnaires and taking temperatures.
He then returned to work in his office from Feb. 5 to 7, before falling ill with a fever on Feb. 9, public broadcaster NHK and other media reported.
“We will examine how he was infected, confirm which routes he took, and what he did,” Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters. “While doing so, we will thoroughly implement measures to prevent quarantine officers from getting infected.”
The officer was wearing masks and gloves, in line with World Health Organization guidelines, and disinfected his hands and fingers after dealing with each passenger, the Yomiuri newspaper reported. But he was not wearing a protective suit or goggles, and he did enter some cabins.
With Japanese media concerned he could have infected other people, the Health Ministry said his family and co-workers have been advised to stay home.
The ministry said on Wednesday said a further 39 people on board the Diamond Princess have tested positive for the virus, among 53 people whose test results came back. That brings the total to 174 people infected, out of 492 who have been tested for the virus, more than one in three.
Before the ship was placed in quarantine last week, there were 2,666 passengers and 1,045 crew on board, but more than 110 have already been taken off the ship for medical treatment. Ambulances and medical staff clad in white protective suits continued to evacuate people on Wednesday.
The number of infected crew members rose by 10 to 20 people. Crew members say they are not segregated as passengers are, but forced to live and work in close proximity, and they’re worried they will catch the virus off each other. Medical experts say there is also a risk that infected crew members could pass the virus on to passengers.