TOKYO, Feb. 13 (Xinhua) -- The Japanese government said Thursday that some elderly passengers on the novel coronavirus-hit cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama will be allowed to disembark as early as Friday.
A total of 200 passengers over the age of 80 with other diseases who have tested negative for the virus could choose to get off the ship, depending on their health conditions and wishes, Japan's Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told a press briefing.
"There are some people whose health may deteriorate by staying aboard for an extended period," Kato said, adding that the age limit for those who allowed to disembark will be lowered.
Those who are permitted to leave early will still be quarantined in government-prepared facilities, the government said.
Around 3,500 people are still confined to the Diamond Princess, health ministry officials said, adding that the two-week isolation period will end on Feb. 19.
According to the latest data from the health ministry, 218 people on board have been confirmed to be infected with the virus, bringing the total of confirmed cases in Japan to 247.
The ship has been kept in quarantine off the port of Yokohama after a passenger on board from Hong Kong was found to be infected with the pneumonia-causing virus.
The 80-year-old passenger flew to Tokyo in mid-January and boarded the cruise ship in the city on Jan. 20, with passengers and crew from 56 countries and regions.
According to local media reports, passengers have since been largely confined to their cabins, though they have been allowed to spend some time on deck while being monitored by staff. Crew members, however, are sharing cabins and are required to move around the ship more frequently.