The novel coronavirus quarantine measures put in place by Japanese officials on board a cruise ship where thousands of people have been kept in isolation were “completely chaotic,” an infectious disease specialist who visited the vessel has claimed.
In two YouTube videos, one in English and one in Japanese, Kentaro Iwata, a professor at Kobe University Hospital in the central Japanese city of Kobe, criticized the situation on the Diamond Princess.
“Everybody could have the virus,” he said, adding, "The cruise ship was completely inadequate in terms of the infection control.”
The Diamond Princess was carrying 3,700 passengers and crew before the quarantine began earlier this month. At least 621 people on board have since tested positive for coronavirus, known as COVID-19.
More than 300 Americans were evacuated from the ship Sunday, and around 450 people disembarked from the ship Wednesday.
Complaining that the “bureaucrats were in charge of everything,” Iwata said he tried to relay his concerns to officials in charge of the quarantine, but he was “removed” from the ship instead.
“The ministry of health called, I had to be out,” he told NBC News over the phone from Kobe. So he made the YouTube videos to spread his message, he added. His videos have now been viewed nearly 1.7 million times.
Iwata said in the video that he has been in self-imposed quarantine ever since he got off the ship.
“I am very scared of getting infection myself and scared of infecting my family, too,” he said, adding that he hoped his appeal would bring scrutiny to what has been happening on the ship and Japan’s handling of the situation.
“I think we have to do something about this cruise,” he said. “We have to help people inside the ship with their safety and their lives.”
But he is not the only one calling the ship’s quarantine measures into question.
His claim appears to be supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said in an assessment Tuesday that quarantine measures implemented on board the Diamond Princess by the Japanese government may not have been sufficient to prevent transmission among people on the ship.
While it commended what it called “extraordinary efforts” by the Japanese government to put the quarantine measures in place, the CDC said in a statement that it believed the rate of new infections on board, especially among those without symptoms, represented an ongoing risk.
“Therefore, to protect the health of the American public, all passengers and crew of the ship have been placed under travel restrictions, preventing them from returning to the United States for at least 14 days after they had left the Diamond Princess,” it added.
Princess Cruises, the company that owns the ship, deferred all questions on the quarantine process to Japan’s health ministry, adding that they have been operating under its jurisdiction for the entire duration of the quarantine.
Later on Wednesday, Japan’s health minister, Katsunobu Kato, said that Iwata was asked to leave the ship because he was not performing the duties that he was assigned.
The head of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Takaji Wakita, denied that there were no specialists on board and said both passengers and crew were provided with the necessary instructions.
Wakita said in a press briefing Wednesday that a cruise ship is not meant to be a quarantine zone and it's impossible to have completely clean zones on the ship.
"But if you look at the results of the quarantine, it is obvious that we have stopped new cases and believe our measures were adequate,” he added.