The health department confirmed on Friday that two South Africans who worked on board the coronavirus-stricken cruise ship Diamond Princess have tested positive for Covid-19, otherwise known as coronavirus.
They were not showing symptoms of illness yet, and have been receiving treatment in Japan.
It had been reported on Thursday that crew members from the cruise ship off Japan began leaving the vessel for a new quarantine on-shore after passengers left the boat, the government said, as one new death was reported in northern Hokkaido.
“Today, 240 crew members are leaving the ship and this disembarking operation will continue for a couple of days,” a health ministry official told AFP.
Those leaving the boat will be placed in medical observation for 14 days at government-designated dormitories before being allowed to leave Japan, they said.
Hundreds of crew members of the Diamond Princess remained on the vessels to continue operations while Japanese officials placed thousands of passengers in a quarantine after the ship arrived at a port near Tokyo on February 3.
But the quarantine has been heavily criticised after more than 700 people on board tested positive for the virus.
Hundreds of passengers who tested negative were allowed to depart the vessel after the 14-day quarantine on-board, but several have since been diagnosed with the virus.
The health ministry has also admitted that it allowed some travellers to go home without testing them during the quarantine period.
The ship carried about 3,700 passengers and crew members when it reached the port of Yokohama.
Several nations, including the US, Australia and the Philippines, have used chartered flights to repatriate hundreds of their citizens.
Passengers and crew members who tested positive for the virus have been sent to hospitals in Japan.
A total of four people who were hospitalised after being taken off the ship have died.
Several government officials working on the ship have themselves contracted the infection, but authorities have defended a policy of not uniformly testing those working on the vessel, arguing that medical experts have the skills to avoid infections.
Crew who show no symptoms will stay at National Tax College dormitories in Saitama, near Tokyo, for observation.
Japan’s government used the dorms to conduct a 14-day quarantine of some Japanese nationals who evacuated from Wuhan and its surrounding areas of China, the epicentre of the outbreak.
Meanwhile, South Africa announced it would evacuate more than 100 of its nationals trapped in China’s city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, the presidency announced on Thursday.
“President Cyril Ramaphosa has directed the repatriation of South African citizens from Wuhan city in Hubei province, China,” his office said in a statement.
The cabinet decided to bring back home 132 South Africans “after due consideration of the circumstances, and following several requests from the families of South Africans in the city”.
The Covid-19 epidemic has killed more than 2,800 people, mostly in China — where it first emerged in December — and infected more than 82,000 in around 50 countries.
The government estimates that there are 199 South Africans in Wuhan but “at this stage, 132 of them have expressed the desire to be repatriated”.
None of the South Africans there have been diagnosed with the deadly virus or shown any symptoms, it added.
But the returnees will be placed in quarantine for “21 days as an additional precautionary measure”, said the presidency.
It did not state when the evacuations would take place.