According to local media, two former passengers of the Coronavirus-infected Diamond Princess died Thursday as fears about those leaving the ship increase after a negative test for the disease.
The couple are a man and a woman in their eighties, NHK and others said the first fatalities among the more than 600 aboard the cruise ship.
Both had underlying conditions and were taken off the ship on February 11th and 12th before being hospitalized, NHK said.
Health Minister Katsunobu Kato offered partial confirmation, but said he had to wait until the families were informed before making them official.
"I pray for their souls and express my condolences to their bereaved," he told MPs.
"The two were sent to medical facilities when they showed symptoms. I think they have received the best possible treatment," he said.
The huge ship that moored in Yokohama near Tokyo is by far the largest coronavirus cluster outside the Chinese epicenter. 621 positive cases were confirmed by passengers and crew members.
On Wednesday, 443 passengers disembarked after they tested negative for the COVID-19 virus and showed no symptoms during a 14-day quarantine period. The complete removal of passengers should take at least three days.
Other passengers left the ship on Thursday, packed into yellow buses and drove home to train stations and airports.
However, questions are increasingly being asked why former Diamond Princess passengers can move freely in Japan's famous crowded cities, even if they have been tested negative.
"Is it really safe to get out?" shouted a headline in the Nikkan Sports tabloid.
The newspaper quoted a passenger who said he was tested on February 15 and left four days later.
"I thought I could be infected during the four days. I thought & # 39; is it really okay & # 39 ;?"
The Diamond Princess was quarantined on February 5 when a passenger departing from Hong Kong was found infected with the virus.
Passengers were confined to cabins, except for short trips on deck with masks and gloves when they were told to keep their distance.
But a specialist in infectious diseases at Kobe University rocked the boat with a video in which "totally chaotic" quarantine procedures were popped on board, in rare criticism from a Japanese official.
"The cruise ship was completely inadequate in terms of infection control," said Kentaro Iwata in videos that he has since deleted. "There is no need to discuss it further."
The videos have been viewed more than a million times in Japanese and a hundred thousand times in English.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Iwata said he heard from a colleague on board that quarantine procedures had improved.
"I think the improvement has reduced the risk of secondary infection for the passengers. It remains for the crews," he said.
However, he recommended monitoring all people leaving the ship for at least 14 days and avoiding contact with others.
"Working desperately hard"
The Japanese authorities have defended their protocols, stressing that risky and safe areas are strictly separated and a station has been installed to safely remove contaminated equipment.
"We did our best in the circumstances," Kato told MPs Thursday morning.
"I want you to understand that not only our Ministry of Health officials, but also self-defense and medical officials are working desperately," he added.
The government also released a document from the National Institute for Infectious Diseases (NIID) that "provided clear evidence that COVID-19 had been significantly transmitted before Diamond Princess was quarantined."
"Quarantine interventions have effectively reduced passenger transmission," the report concluded.
The NIID also identified the unique situation of the Japanese authorities.
"Because of the nature of the ship, it was not possible to individually isolate everyone on board. Cabin sharing was required and some crew members still had to perform essential functions for the ship to function."
The 1,045 crew on board are expected to experience another 14-day quarantine after the last passenger disembarks.
Several countries have evacuated their citizens from the ship and insisted that they go through another 14-day quarantine when they arrive on home soil.
Outside of the diamond princess, Japan has seen 84 cases.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)