Well-Being Prevention & Cures

Doctor says cruise ship coronavirus situation is ‘completely chaotic’


Story at a glance

  • Kentaro Iwata boarded the ship Tuesday to volunteer with the coronavirus response.
  • He said he was asked to leave after he voiced concerns about protocols.
  • More than 600 people onboard have been infected with the coronavirus.

A Japanese infectious disease expert is speaking out against the Japanese government’s handling of the coronavirus quarantine on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where as many as 621 cases of the virus have been reported.

Kentaro Iwata, an infectious diseases expert at Kobe University, was brought onto the cruise ship Tuesday, just one day before authorities began allowing passengers to exit the quarantined cruise ship that has been docked in Yokohama since Feb. 3  with more than 3,000 people onboard. 

Iwata posted a video to YouTube criticizing the Japanese government’s response. 

“The cruise ship was completely inadequate in terms of infection control,” Iwata said in the video uploaded Tuesday. “There was no distinction between the green zone, which is free of infection, and the red zone, which is potentially contaminated by the virus.” 

Iwata spent a day as a volunteer doctor on the luxury liner and said he saw “no single professional infection control person inside the ship,” and there was “nobody in charge of infection prevention as a professional.” He said the quarantine was run by “bureaucrats” who failed to follow basic protocols. Iwata said the health of passengers, crew and health care professionals working inside are at risk of infection, and the practice is worse than what he saw in Africa during the Ebola crisis. 

Iwata said he saw people eating lunch with their medical gloves on, and handling their smartphones while wearing protective suits, “so it was completely chaotic.”

In the video, Iwata said that in his two decades of dealing with infectious diseases, including the 2003 SARS epidemic in China and the Ebola outbreak in Africa, he “never had fear of getting infection myself.” But on the Diamond Princess, he said,  “I was so scared. I was so scared of getting COVID-19 because there’s no way to tell where the virus is.”

He said he voiced concerns to officials on the boat and was subsequently told to leave. 

In a series of tweets, Japan’s vice minister of health Gaku Hashimoto, who was on board the ship, said Iwata was told to leave after he could not give a clear answer why he was on board. 

The Japanese government has repeatedly defended its handling of the outbreak. 

“Unfortunately, cases of infection have emerged, but we have to the extent possible taken appropriate steps to prevent serious cases, including sending infected people to the hospital,” health minister Katsunobu Kato said recently, according to Reuters. 

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said in a statement obtained by Reuters that the quarantine “may not have been sufficient to prevent transmission among individuals on the ship.” 

About 500 people left the cruise ship Wednesday after tests showed they had not contracted the coronavirus, though people who tested negative but shared a room with an infected person will be kept aboard for additional quarantine.