Relieved passengers left a coronavirus-infested cruise ship in Japan on Wednesday after testing for the disease, which has now killed over 2,000 people in China.
With at least 542 positive cases, the Diamond Princess has proven to be a fertile breeding ground for the virus, and there is increasing criticism of Japan's handling of quarantine arrangements as passengers who are ready to disperse around the world.
The ship is the largest cluster outside of China, in which, according to new figures, the death toll with more than 74,000 infected has risen to over 2,000. Hundreds of other cases have been reported in two dozen countries.
For around 500 passengers who were allowed to disembark after a negative test, a difficult 14-day quarantine period ended after their dream cruise had become a nightmare of fear and boredom, which in many cases was limited to small windowless cabins.
"NEGATIVE! Me, son, husband, mom and dad! Thank you, sir, for protecting us … So emotional now," tweeted passenger Yardley Wong, who was with her six-year-old son.
Those without symptoms and with a negative test received an official certificate stating that they "pose no risk of infection for nCoV since this person did not show any symptoms including fever at the time of infection".
But not everyone was so lucky.
British passenger David Abel, who became a small celebrity in the early days of quarantine with his optimistic video messages – including a cheeky request to the captain for whiskey – was a typical example of the mood change on board.
"Now everything is coming towards us and it is not just me, but also the other passengers. It is the ignorant factor that is the real challenge. Mentally, it is now taking its toll. At the moment it is very difficult to approach it concentrate everything, "he said.
He later announced that he and his wife had tested Sally positively.
China announced on Wednesday that there were 1,749 new infections, the lowest number of new cases this month. All but 56 new cases were in the epicenter of Hubei Province.
Michael Ryan, director of the WHO Health Emergency Program, said the outbreak was "very serious" and could increase, but stressed that it affects "a very, very small, tiny fraction of people outside of Hubei".
There were 900 cases worldwide with five deaths in France, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
In Japan, some concerns have been raised that people can fly home from the cruise ship or spread out in the notoriously crowded Japanese capital.
Kentaro Iwata, a professor at the Department of Infectious Diseases at Kobe University, classified the quarantine on the ship as a "serious mistake".
"It is very likely that secondary infections have occurred," Iwata told AFP, saying that skepticism about the quarantine from abroad is "only natural".
He later said in an online video released that after a brief visit to the ship, he put himself in quarantine, where he expressed great concern about the procedures on board.
"It was totally messy," he said.
Several countries seem to have lost patience with the quarantine on board and have prepared chartered planes to bring their citizens back.
The first such evacuation on Monday flew more than 300 Americans, although 14 of the passengers tested positive.
In early Wednesday, South Korea flew six of its nationals and a Japanese spouse to Seoul. They will be isolated for 14 days, the Yonhap news agency reported.
The UK, Hong Kong and Australia include countries that have vowed to repatriate people from the ship, but will insist on another 14-day quarantine on home soil.
Nathalie MacDermott, a medical expert at King’s College London, stressed the importance of continuing to quarantine after you leave the ship.
"Given the circumstances on board the Diamond Princess, passengers leaving the boat should be managed in a similar manner to those leaving a heavily affected city or region," said MacDermott.
She recommended, "Another 14 days of self-isolation or quarantine would be advisable without symptoms."
"Cheers for them"
Disembarkation is expected to take three days once more test results are available. Anyone who has had contact with an infected passenger must be quarantined for another 14 days.
The crew also begins a new quarantine when the last passenger disembarks.
But the people of Yokohama seemed to support the decision to skip the passengers despite the virus fears.
"I am sure that these people on board really need to be concerned. I hope that they can return to normal life soon," said Isamu Habiro, 51.
"As a resident of Yokohama, I don't want them to be treated unfairly. I want to cheer them on," Habiro told AFP.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)