Asia Today: Clusters among crew on 2 ships in Taiwan, Japan

International

In this April 21, 2020, photo, Italian-operated cruise ship the Costa Atlantica is anchored at a port in Nagasaki, southern Japan.
Japanese officials said a few dozens of crew members on the cruise ship docked have tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday, the day after a first case from the ship was reported. (Kyodo News via AP)

BANGKOK (AP) — Japanese officials said Wednesday that 33 crew members on a docked cruise ship tested positive for the coronavirus in one day of testing after the first case from the ship was reported.

The Italian-operated Costa Atlantica has been docked in Nagasaki since late January for repairs and maintenance by Mitsubishi Heavy Industry. The ship carries 623 crew members, including a Japanese translator, but it was empty of passengers during the work.

The outbreak surfaced Tuesday when the first crew member, identified only as a foreign national, tested positive for the virus.

None of those infected had serious symptoms and all are isolated in single rooms on the ship, officials said.

Mitsubishi officials said no crew members had left the ship since mid-March. Before then, crew members had been allowed to come and go from ship to shore if they passed temperature checks and had not recently traveled to high-risk countries such as China and Italy.

Nagasaki officials are investigating how and where the crew members contracted the virus.

The outbreak on the ship adds to concerns about testing and hospital capacity in Nagasaki, where only 102 beds are available.

All of Japan is under a coronavirus state of emergency as cases rise in the world’s oldest population and third-largest economy. Japan has about 11,500 cases of infection, with 280 deaths. Those numbers are separate from an earlier outbreak on another cruise ship carrying more than 3,700 passengers and crew, where 712 of them were infected.

In other developments around the Asia-Pacific region:

— CHINA INSTITUTES NEW CONTROLS: The capital of a northeastern border province is tightening rules on coronavirus prevention and control as cases rise. State media reported residential compounds in Harbin and villages on the outskirts were ordered to restrict access and install monitoring equipment on the doors of people forced to self-quarantine. Heilongjiang province has become a hot spot, mainly due to Chinese citizens flying in from Russia. The land border has been closed and a field hospital built to handle patient overloads. The 30 new cases China reported Wednesday include 23 from abroad and seven domestic cases, all in Heilongjiang.

— AUSTRALIA-CHINA SPAT: Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Chinese criticism that Australia is parroting U.S. calls for transparency on the origins of the coronavirus is “unwarranted.” Frydenberg told Australian Broadcasting Corp. that Australian officials’ role “is to defend the Australian national interest, and that’s what we’ll continue to do, and we’ll speak up about it as required.” China’s foreign ministry also said Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s call for a review of the virus’s origins and China’s handling of the outbreak was “not based on facts.”

— TAIWAN NAVY CASES: President Tsai Ing-wen said she bore responsibility for a virus cluster on a navy ship that has infected 27 people. “I want to present my apologies for letting Taiwanese people bear the risk of the epidemic,” she said. Two admirals were removed from their posts pending further investigation into responsibility for the infections, Taiwan’s defense chief said. Taiwan has reported 425 cases and six deaths from the outbreak. More than half of patients have been released from hospital and the self-governing island democracy has received praise for controlling the outbreak through case-tracing and social distancing, despite being excluded from the World Health Organization.

— RELIGIOUS MEETING ARRESTS: Indian authorities arrested 29 people, including 16 foreigners, who participated in an Islamic missionary meeting last month now tied to a large cluster of infections. Police said a university professor who had arranged shelter for Indonesians was also arrested. They were booked on charges of violating the Foreigners Act and colluding by sheltering foreigners and shielding information about them from the police. The government has blamed the Muslim missionary movement Tablighi Jamaat for a surge in virus infections. India has 18,601 cases, more than 4,200 linked to the missionary meeting.

— SOUTH KOREAN CASES DECLINE: South Korea reported 11 new cases of the coronavirus and one more death, bringing its national totals to 10,694 cases and 238 deaths. Infections continue to wane in the hardest-hit city of Daegu, which reported just one new case. With its caseload slowing, South Korea has begun to relax social distancing amid concerns over the epidemic’s economic shock.

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