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Coronavirus cases on cruise liner off Japan jump to 61

*Death toll in mainland China’s coronavirus outbreak has risen to 636, authorities have announced

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The cruise ship Diamond Princess is anchored at Yokohama Port for supplies replenished in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. . (Kenzaburo Fukuhara/Kyodo News via AP)

The cruise ship Diamond Princess is anchored at Yokohama Port for supplies replenished in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. . (Kenzaburo Fukuhara/Kyodo News via AP)

AP

The cruise ship Diamond Princess is anchored at Yokohama Port for supplies replenished in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. . (Kenzaburo Fukuhara/Kyodo News via AP)

Another 41 people quarantined on a cruise liner off Japan tested positive for coronavirus on Friday, bringing the total confirmed cases to 61, with thousands of passengers confined to cabins as the testing is carried out.

The cruise ship, Diamond Princess, and the roughly 3,700 people on board have been under a two-week quarantine since arriving back at the port of Yokohama, south of Tokyo, on Monday after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong was diagnosed with the virus.

The 61 cases came from a sample of 273 people who had been tested because they were either showing symptoms or had been in close contact with those who did, according to the health ministry.

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told a news conference 21 of the newly found 41 cases were Japanese. Further tests would be conducted if additional passengers on board the ship developed symptoms, he said.

The outbreak, which has killed has almost 640 people in mainland China but only two elsewhere, has stoked concern about the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which begin on July 24. Games organisers have set up a task force to coordinate with health authorities on how to respond to the epidemic.

Video footage showed blue and white tarpaulin put up on the Diamond Princess to screen passengers from view as those diagnosed with the virus were moved out to hospitals in Tokyo and neighbouring towns, the health ministry said.

The increase in the number of infections has added to the gloom for passengers stuck on the ship, who were only allowed onto open decks briefly for fresh air.

Internet bandwidth had been increased and passengers were finding out about the new infections from the internet before they were announced on the ship, a 43-year-old Hong Kong resident, on the ship with his family, told Reuters.

Staff distributed thermometers and passengers were told mental health experts were available, over the telephone around the clock.

"We have instructions to monitor our temperatures and report if we're above 37.5," said the man, who declined to be identified. Normal temperature is generally accepted as 37 Celsius.

Ashley Rhodes-Courter, an American whose parents are on the ship, said she hoped U.S. officials would be able to help her parents get off it.

"They are all breathing circulated contaminated air so they could be getting everyone infected," Rhodes-Courter said.

Experts say the virus can be transmitted via droplets from an infected person exhaling, coughing or sneezing, and can also spread via contaminated surfaces.

Transport Minister Kazuyoshi Akaba told reporters Japan had asked another cruise ship, the Westerdam, not to make a port call in the country.

Guam Governor Leon Guerrero today rejected a U.S. State Department request to allow the Westerdam to dock there.

Separately, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said a fourth chartered flight had brought 119 more Japanese nationals and 79 Chinese and Taiwanese family members from Wuhan.

Three planes last week brought a total of 565 evacuees back to Japan. A handful of them were confirmed to have the virus.

The new ship cases take the total number of coronavirus infections in Japan to more than 80, according to Reuters calculations.

Health Minister Kato said Japan was not including the cruise ship cases in its national count, which stands at 21.

Separating out the cruise line cases helps authorities demonstrate they've been able to keep domestic transmissions low, said Ikuo Tsunoda, professor of microbiology at Kindai University.

"Whenever I see the table of the number of patients infected around the world, the top line is always of course China, and now in the past few days, the second country is Japan," Tsunoda said. "It looks really bad."

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said Chinese nationals who have qualified for the Tokyo marathon on March 1 but cannot travel to Japan to take part will be assured of a spot next year.

Reuters