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Patient at infected doctor's hospital in Japan tests positive for coronavirus


WAKAYAMA, Japan – A man in his 70s who was treated at a hospital in western Japan where a doctor was recently confirmed to have been infected with a new coronavirus has also tested positive for it, local officials said Friday, February 14, although they denied the two came into contact.

Wakayama Governor Yoshinobu Nisaka said he does not think infections are spreading inside the Saiseikai Arida Hospital in Yuasa, Wakayama Prefecture where the man, a farmer, was briefly hospitalized from last week.

A local government official warned infections could be spreading outside of the medical facility as the man developed symptoms before he visited the hospital on February 6.

So far, 252 people in Japan – more than 200 of whom are passengers and crew from a cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama – have been found to be infected with the pneumonia-causing virus.

The doctor, a surgeon in his 50s, was confirmed Thursday, February 13, to have become the first doctor in Japan to be infected with the virus that causes the disease now known as COVID-19, which originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

The farmer, whose infection with the virus was also confirmed Thursday, has developed severe pneumonia and is now being treated at a different medical facility, the prefectural government said.

He initially developed symptoms on February 1, began running a fever on February 5 and was admitted to the Saiseikai Arida Hospital on February 6 before being moved to a different facility on Thursday.

A healthcare center is confirming who has been in close contact with him, the prefectural government said, adding that it is currently unknown whether he has recently traveled overseas.

In addition to the surgeon and the farmer, another doctor and two patients at the hospital have developed pneumonia. One of the two patients, a woman, has already tested negative for the COVID-19 virus, but local authorities will conduct a fresh test on her and also screen the doctor and the other patient.

The infected surgeon had symptoms of fever and fatigue on January 31 and took two days off but worked February 3-5 after taking antipyretics. He was diagnosed with pneumonia on February 8 and was hospitalized two days later.

The surgeon has not traveled overseas recently or had close contact with visitors from China.

The Wakayama prefectural government has started offering consultation services at its office and public health centers. The health ministry is preparing to send an expert to the prefecture.

First COVID-19 death in Japan

The latest revelation comes on the heels of Japan's first coronavirus death – that of a Kanagawa woman in her 80s, whose son-in-law was also found to be infected with the virus.

The Japanese Association for Infectious Diseases said in a statement dated February 3 that it would be "no surprise if the virus was spreading sporadically in Japan."

Health minister Katsunobu Kato, however, said, "There is no reason for changing the government position that it has yet to reach the state of an epidemic within Japan."

Kato indicated expanding the scope of screening, which is currently limited to people who have traveled to and from or have had exposure to people from China's Hubei and Zhejiang provinces.

Chartered aircraft

Meanwhile, a group of Japanese nationals who evacuated from Wuhan on the second chartered aircraft sent to the Chinese city by the Japanese government amid the virus outbreak departed from state facilities where they have been staying since arriving in Tokyo on January 30.

The 199 returnees all tested negative for the virus following a 12.5-day monitoring period. The first group of Wuhan evacuees left for home Thursday after undergoing the same procedure.

The government has already sent 4 chartered planes and repatriated a total of 763 people from Wuhan and other areas of Hubei Province on four flights amid a wide-scale lockdown of the area.

It is planning to send a fifth plane on Sunday, February 15, to bring home more Japanese nationals and their families who wish to leave the city, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said.

Diamond Princess

Some elderly passengers on the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Yokohama, near Tokyo, were expected to disembark from the vessel later Friday. They will stay at a state facility in Saitama Prefecture.

With those infected on the vessel being taken to hospitals, currently about 3,400 passengers and crew remain quarantined on the ship. The health ministry initially planned to keep all of them confined aboard the ship until next Wednesday, when the monitoring period ends.

But it has decided to allow those aged 80 and above who have pre-existing conditions or are staying inside cabins without windows, together with people traveling with them, to leave the ship after screening for infections.

As the government scrambled to contain the virus, the Cabinet decided to use 10.3 billion yen ($94 million) from Japan's reserve funds for measures to stem the outbreak of the new coronavirus.

Under a hastily compiled policy package worth 15.3 billion yen in total, the government will allocate most of the funds to meet emergency needs, ranging from developing rapid-test kits and a vaccine to enabling more hospitals to treat symptoms caused by the virus. –