Two elderly passengers aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship who contracted the new coronavirus have died, Japan’s health ministry confirmed on Thursday. They are the first confirmed deaths among the more than 620 people on board the vessel who have tested positive for COVID-19.
One of the fatalities was an 87-year-old Japanese man and the other an 84-year-old Japanese woman, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported.
Both reportedly had underlying health issues. No other details of their sickness have been made public.
The Diamond Princess, which had about 3,700 passengers and crew on board, was quarantined for two weeks off the Japanese coast after a passenger who disembarked from the vessel in Hong Kong tested positive for the coronavirus. The infected vessel is the largest single cluster of COVID-19 cases outside China, the origin of the outbreak.
On Wednesday, Japanese authorities — who have faced mounting criticism over their handling of the cruise ship crisis — began allowing passengers who tested negative for the virus and showed no symptoms to leave the ship.
Japanese passengers have been allowed to go home once cleared to disembark, Reuters reported. Citizens from other countries, including Canada, Australia and the U.S., have or will travel home on charter flights and be subjected to quarantines upon landing in their home nations.
More than 300 American passengers were flown back to the U.S. this week and were quarantined at air bases in California and Texas. Fourteen Americans who tested positive for the virus have been hospitalized.
More than 70,000 people globally have been infected with COVID-19 to date, mostly in China’s Hubei province. More than 2,000 people have died.