2 cruise ship passengers in Japan die from novel coronavirus

It's the first deaths out of the confirmed cases from the Diamond Princess.

LONDON -- Two passengers from a cruise ship quarantined in Japanese waters have died from the novel coronavirus, officials said.

It's the first deaths to occur out of the hundreds of confirmed cases from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

The deceased patients -- a man and a woman -- were in their 80s and were residents of Japan. Both were taken ashore for treatment last week after having prolonged fevers, and they ultimately tested positive for the newly identified virus, known officially as COVID-19. They both died Thursday, according to Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, which is leading and coordinating the public health response on board the cruise ship.

The Diamond Princess docked at the Japanese port of Yokohama on Feb. 3 and was placed under quarantine two days later, as passengers and crew tested positive for COVID-19. Since then, over 600 people on board have been infected with the disease, according to Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.

All those aboard the vessel who were infected have been brought ashore for treatment, while thousands of others were confined to their rooms until the quarantine period ends. Passengers who have tested negative for COVID-19 have been disembarking the ship since Wednesday.

Princess Cruises, which operates the cruise ship, has cancelled all Diamond Princess voyages through April 20 due to the "prolonged quarantine period." The cruise line is offering a full refund to all 2,666 guests, more than 400 of whom were from the United States.

The U.S. government evacuated more than 300 American passengers on two charter flights Monday, including 14 who had tested positive for the new coronavirus. Roughly 60 Americans, some who were hospitalized and others who opted to stay on the ship, remain in Japan.

The cruise ship is the largest center of infection outside China.

The initial cases of COVID-19 emerged back in December in Wuhan, the capital of China's central Hubei province. China has since placed the city under lockdown but the country has still struggled to contain the virus.

As of Wednesday, China's National Health Commission said it has received 74,576 reports of confirmed cases and 2,118 deaths on the Chinese mainland. Over 83 percent of the cases have been reported in Hubei province, the outbreak's epicenter.

An additional 99 confirmed infections have been reported in the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao as well as Taiwan, with two deaths in Hong Kong and one in Taiwan, according to China's National Health Commission.

The virus spread overseas, with 924 confirmed cases in 25 countries, including the United States. There have been at least three deaths reported outside of China, according to the World Health Organization, which has declared the outbreak a global health emergency.

The WHO has not yet officially confirmed several other deaths recently reported in various nations, including the two cruise ship passengers in Japan.

Amid fears over the health crisis, the mayor of the South Korean city of Daegu urged its 2.5 million residents on Thursday to refrain from leaving their homes, after dozens of new infections were reported in the city and its nearby towns.

COVID-19 causes symptoms similar to pneumonia, ranging from the mild, such as a slight cough, to the more severe, including fever and difficulty breathing, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is no vaccine yet for the virus.