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Health Expert Visits Ship, Raises Alarm

Kentaro Iwata says controls were so light he feared he would contract disease himself
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 20, 2020 2:47 PM CST

(Newser) – The 621 coronavirus cases confirmed on the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan represent the most anywhere outside of China. And an infectious diseases expert at Japan's Kobe University has a good idea why. Kentaro Iwata, who worked to combat the spread of Ebola and SARS, spent a brief period aboard the cruise ship Tuesday, finding "completely inadequate" infection controls as well as passengers, crew members, and even medical professionals walking about without protective clothing, reports ABC News. "It was completely chaotic," Iwata says. "There was no distinction between the green zone, which is free of infection, and the red zone, which is potentially contaminated by the virus." The Wall Street Journal reports he was kicked off the ship after being accused of violating the terms he agreed to before stepping aboard.

Iwata denies that claim, made at a Wednesday press conference where the head of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases confirmed there was no distinct green zone. Still, Takaji Wakita said "isolation functioned effectively" nonetheless. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said officials were "doing everything possible" to stop COVID-19 from spreading on the ship. But Iwata fears he contracted the virus and has quarantined himself, per ABC. A two-week general quarantine for the ship ended Wednesday, with some passengers heading to train stations, per the Journal. But others, including those in close proximity to positive cases, are not yet allowed to leave. Iwata says that puts them at risk. "We have to assume every single utensil on that ship has been exposed to infection," he tells the Journal. "I was so scared." (Two passengers have already died.)

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