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Diamond Princess Quarantine: an Epic Failure?

Experts suggest the coronavirus quarantine on cruise ship may have been less than rigorous
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 18, 2020 7:15 PM CST

(Newser) – As an extraordinary two-week quarantine of a cruise ship ends Wednesday in Japan, many scientists say it was a failed experiment: The ship seemed to serve as an incubator for the new virus from China instead of an isolation facility meant to prevent the worsening of an outbreak. Since the virus was identified late last year in central China, it has sickened more than 75,000 people across the globe and killed more than 2,000. As of Tuesday, 542 cases of the virus, known as COVID-19, have been identified among the 3,711 quarantined passengers and crew, making the ship the site of the most infections outside of China. The Diamond Princess cruise ship is also the only place where health officials have seen the disease spread easily among people beyond China, the AP reports. The question now is: Why?

In a possible sign of lax quarantine protocols, three Japanese health officials who helped in the quarantine checks on the ship were also infected.

  • “Obviously the quarantine hasn't worked, and this ship has now become a source of infection,” said Dr. Nathalie MacDermott, an outbreak expert at King's College London.
  • Some passengers were allowed to walk on the decks wearing a mask, and “I suspect people were not as isolated from other people as we would have thought,” said Dr. Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia in England. He said the continued spread of the virus could be due to compliance problems, and called the quarantine's lack of effectiveness "a huge disappointment."
  • “Boats are notorious places for being incubators for viruses,” said Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at the New York University School of Medicine, who suggested passengers should have been removed from the ship rather than quarantined there. “It's only morally justified to keep people on the boat if there are no other options."
All passengers whose samples test negative will begin disembarking Wednesday, but US health officials on Tuesday told Americans who declined to come home on government-chartered flights over the weekend that they wouldn’t be allowed back into the country for at least 14 days after they had left the Diamond Princess. (Read more coronavirus stories.)

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