Yokohama: Japan on Friday began allowing elderly passengers who tested negative for the new coronavirus (Covid-19) to leave the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess.
They will be taken to isolation in government-designated lodging.
Passengers aged 80 or older in poor health or those who were confined to windowless inner cabins on the ship were given the chance to move to accommodation on land.
The first of them departed the massive cruise ship Friday afternoon, travelling in buses with blacked-out windows.
A government official said 11 people had left, but declined to say whether more would depart.
The move comes a day after the number of infections diagnosed on the ship rose to 218.
Senior health ministry official Gaku Hashimoto boarded the ship Friday morning to announce that all passengers “who are considered to be high risk in general health” would now be tested for the virus.
“Those who test positive will be transferred to hospital. Those who test negative will -- at the request of the individual -- disembark and be transferred to accommodation provided by the government,” he said in a statement read out by the ship's captain in a public broadcast.
There were more than 3,700 people on the ship when it arrived off the Japanese coast last week. Those diagnosed with the virus have been taken off the boat, along with some people suffering other health conditions requiring medical attention.
Ten of those hospitalised are now in a serious condition, health minister Katsunobu Kato said Friday.
The Diamond Princess quarantine is due to end on February 19. Those on the ship have been mostly confined to their cabins and asked to wear masks and keep their distance from other passengers during brief outings on open deck.
Crew on board have expressed concern that their conditions -- including shared cabins, bathrooms and workspaces -- put them at greater risk of contracting the virus.
Three Indian crew members on board the cruise ship have tested positive for Covid-19 so far, the Indian embassy in Japan said.
A total of 138 Indians, including 132 crew members and 6 passengers, were on board the ship.