Japan puzzled by outbreak on cruise ship

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese officials are investigating an outbreak of the coronavirus among crew members of a cruise ship in Nagasaki, which has puzzled authorities because the southern port city has a relatively low number of infections and the vessel has been docked for almost three months.

The outbreak on the Italian-operated Costa Atlantica surfaced on Tuesday when officials from Nagasaki and Mitsubishi Heavy Industry, which is in charge of repairs and maintenance on the ship, announced that a crew member developed a cough and fever. By yesterday, 47 crew have tested positive for the virus, a Nagasaki prefectural official Hironori Hashiguchi said.

The ship has 623 crew, including a Japanese translator, and no passengers. It came to Nagasaki after changing its repair plan in China due to the pandemic. Officials did not disclose the nationalities of the crew.

The remaining staff are without serious symptoms and remain quarantined on board in single rooms, except for those on essential duties, including cooking and delivering food for their colleagues, officials said. Some of the essential crew also are infected. Details of the movements of the crew are not clear, but officials suspect they had either contracted the virus while in town or when the ship switched crew in the past few weeks.

Mitsubishi initially said the crew never left dock after March 14, when Nagasaki reported its first coronavirus case and asked all crew members to stay on board. But the company acknowledged the following day that some members who passed body temperature checks and other requirements had been allowed off the ship. Yesterday, Mitsubishi said there was a possible switch of crew and that the company was checking with the ship operator, Costa Cruises.

As infections in Japan continue to spread, the outbreak on ship has raised concerns about testing and hospital capacity in Nagasaki, which has 17 people infected, 11 of them hospitalised.

Italian-operated cruise ship the Costa Atlantica is anchored at a port in Nagasaki, southern Japan. PHOTO: AP