February 4, 2020 / 3:53 AM / 23 days ago

Japan testing 3,700 people quarantined on cruise ship after Hong Kong coronavirus case

TOKYO, Feb 4 (Reuters) - Japanese officials began screening more than 3,700 passengers and crew on a cruise ship quarantined off the port of Yokohama near Tokyo on Tuesday after a Hong Kong man who sailed on the vessel last month tested positive for coronavirus.

The 80-year-old man flew to Japan and boarded the ship, the Diamond Princess, run by Carnival Japan Inc, in Yokohama on Jan. 20 and disembarked in Hong Kong on Jan. 25, the company said.

Japan was also preparing to expand the scope of its screening for the virus, and test criteria after initial tests failed to detect the virus in some people who were later found to be infected, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters.

Opposition parties and some experts have criticised the government for responding too slowly to the risks posed by the virus spreading in China and elsewhere.

Chinese make up 30% of all tourists travelling to Japan and nearly 40% of the total amount foreign visitors spent last year, according to an industry survey.

Japan has 20 confirmed coronavirus cases, of these 17 people have been in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the epidemic began.

Japan on Saturday began refusing entry to foreigners who have been in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, in the past 14 days as well as people with passports issued in Hubei province. Suga said that as of Feb. 3, eight foreigners had been barred from entering Japan.

Some countries including the United States and Australia have denied entry to all foreign nationals travelling from China.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said he believed Japan’s current restrictions on entry were appropriate, when asked at a news conference.

Carnival Japan, a unit of British-American cruise operator Carnival Corp, confirmed that the turnaround of the ship had been delayed by about 24 hours for authorities to review the health of all 2,666 guests and 1,045 crew on board.

Once everyone’s health was checked, those with fevers or who felt unwell would be tested, after which authorities would decide whether to let people leave the ship, Suga said.

Asked if the epidemic would affect a visit by Chinese leader Xi Jinping expected to take place in April, Suga said preparations for the visit were proceeding as planned. (reporting by Linda Sieg, Sakura Murakami and Ami Miyazaki; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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