South Korea will consult with Japan to best reflect the wishes of its citizens locked inside a cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo following onboard outbreaks of the new coronavirus, an official said Friday, after criticism it is not doing enough to protect them.
Fourteen South Koreans -- nine passengers and five crew members -- have remained inside the Diamond Princess since the ship was quarantined at Yokohama Port early last week after confirming the first infection of the COVID-19.
While none of them have contracted the disease, questions have arisen over the government's response to the situation, as opposed to the recent flight evacuations of some 700 nationals from the virus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan.
"We're going to check with them and will consult with Japanese authorities so as to best reflect the passengers' positions," a foreign ministry official told reporters in response to questions of whether the government will help the South Koreans get off the ship.
The official noted that any decision concerning the people onboard needs to be made in step with Japan's policy, given that the neighboring country holds jurisdiction over the cruise ship.
The officials also cited that other countries like the United States, Australia and Canada that have far more citizens aboard the ship have not stated any plans yet to move them out.
"The situation in Japan is different from Wuhan," he said. "We are monitoring how these other countries are doing."
On Thursday, Japan announced it will allow passengers over age 80 to leave the ship if they test negative for the virus and will give priority to those with a chronic illness or staying in cabins without windows. They will also be put under isolation until the middle of next week.
Of the South Korean passengers on the ship, six people are in their 60s and two others in their 70s, with one person a 30-something, according to the ministry.
Japan has reported 44 more confirmed cases of the virus on the ship as of Thursday, with the total number of infections reaching 218 out of nearly 3,500 people aboard. (Yonhap)