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By Ju-min Park and Elaine Lies
TOKYO, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Another 41 people on a cruise liner off Japan tested positive for coronavirus on Friday, bringing the total confirmed cases to 61, with thousands of passengers confined to cabins as testing continues.
The cruise ship, Diamond Princess, and the roughly 3,700 people aboard have been under two-week quarantine since arriving back at the port of Yokohama, just south of Tokyo, on Monday night, after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong was diagnosed with the virus.
The total 61 cases came from a sample of 273 people who had been tested because they were either showing symptoms or had been in close contact with those who did, according to the health ministry.
Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told a news conference 21 of the newly found 41 cases were Japanese. Further tests would be conducted if additional passengers on board the ship developed symptoms, he said.
Live TV footage showed blue and white hoardings put up in the vessel where passengers diagnosed with the virus were being moved out to medical facilities. The new patients would be transported to hospitals in Tokyo and neighbouring towns, the health ministry said.
The rise in the number of infections has worsened the mood for thousands of passengers stuck on the cruise, who were only allowed out for brief periods to breathe fresh air on open decks. Several had previously said they were longing to get out and see the sky.
Ashley Rhodes-Courter, an American whose parents are on the boat, said she hoped U.S. officials would be able to help her parents leave the boat.
"They are all breathing circulated contaminated air so they could be getting everyone infected," Rhodes-Courter told Reuters.
The virus can be transmitted via droplets from an infected person exhaling, coughing or sneezing, and can also spread via contaminated surfaces such as door handles.
Experts have said it is more easily transmitted than the SARS virus.
Separately, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said a fourth chartered flight had brought 119 more Japanese nationals and 79 Chinese and Taiwanese family members from Wuhan.
There was no immediate word on the condition of the most recent air arrivals. Three planes last week brought a total of 565 evacuees back to Japan, a handful of whom were confirmed to have the virus - including several who had not shown symptoms.
The new ship cases take the total number of coronavirus infections in Japan to more than 80, according to Reuters calculations. Health Minister Kato said Japan is not including the cruise ship cases in its national count, which stands at 21 patients.
With the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics less than half a year away, Games organisers have set up a task force to deal with the situation.
The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in mainland China reached 636 as of the end of Thursday, up 73 from the previous day, the country's National Health Commission said on Friday.
Across mainland China, there were 3,143 new confirmed infections on Thursday, bringing the total so far to 31,161. (Reporting by Ju-min Park and Elaine Lies; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim, Muralikumar Anantharaman and Sam Holmes)
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