Two elderly passengers from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship have died, after being taken off the Coronavirus-hit vessel, Japan’s health ministry has said.
They were the first fatalities from the cruise ship, currently docked in Yokohama port near Tokyo, which has confirmed 621 cases out of the original 3,711 people on board.
Japan now has three deaths linked to the Coronavirus COVID-19 illness, with one other fatality unrelated to the ship.
Japan's NHK public television said both the passengers who died were Japanese and in their 80s. A Health Ministry official only confirmed that they had been previously hospitalized in serious condition and had existing chronic diseases. The official spoke anonymously, citing office protocol.
The cruise ship started allowing passengers who tested negative for the virus off the ship on Wednesday, at the end of a 14-day quarantine period. A large number of passengers are expected to disembark on Thursday and Friday.
- "It's definitely time to get everybody off the ship now": watch Good Morning Europe's interview with Professor Ben Cowling of Hong Kong University in the video player above.
Meanwhile, two elderly Iranian citizens have died from the virus, as the country reported its first cases. The state-run IRNA news agency reported on Wednesday the victims were located in Qom, a city 140km from the capital Tehran.
At least 2,004 people have now died after being confirmed to have caught the virus, with 74,100 cases confirmed in mainland China, where the outbreak began.
There have been questions over the Japanese government’s handling of the situation, with some experts calling the ship a perfect virus incubator. Some medical experts who observed the quarantine process on board also raised caution over lax protective measures on the ship.
About 440 passengers had left the ship by Wednesday evening, and Japanese officials said more than 1,000 others will be gone by Friday. The Diamond Princess was quarantined after one passenger who left the ship earlier in Hong Kong was found to have the virus.
Before the quarantine on the ship had ended, the United States evacuated more than 300 Americans and put them in quarantine in the US for another 14 days. South Korea, Australia and Hong Kong evacuated their residents for quarantines as well, and Canada and Italy sent flights for their citizens.