More than 3700 people face at least two weeks locked away on a cruise liner anchored off Japan after health officials confirmed that 10 people, including two Australians, on the ship had tested positive for coronavirus and more cases were possible.
While the infected patients were transferred by Japan's coast guard to hospitals on the mainland, the remainder of the passengers and crew on board the ship were placed in quarantine.
"I want to take sufficient care of the health of passengers and crew and make every effort to prevent the spread of the virus," Japan Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters in Tokyo on Wednesday.
The decision means passengers on the Diamond Princess, which had embarked for a planned 14-day round trip that was due begin on Tuesday, will instead spend at least 14 days off Yokohama port near Tokyo.
Ship owner Pacific Cruises said the 3711 people aboard included 2,666 guests and 1045 crew, 223 of which were Australian.
None of the 10 infected people - three each from Japan and Hong Kong, two Australians, one American and one Filipino crew member - had severe symptoms, public broadcaster NHK reported.
Passengers on the ship took to social media to detail their predicament, posting photos of officials in masks and gowns conducting health checks, room service meals, empty corridors, and a barren deck.
British passenger David Abel said all passengers were confined to their cabins on Wednesday morning, with staff delivering food room by room.
"The challenging situation for me is that I'm an insulin dependent diabetic," Abel said in a video taken in his cabin and posted to his Facebook page, adding that regular and timed food intake was a key part of managing his condition.
"We don't have a choice in what we can eat, the announcement recently was that they're starting on the bottom deck and working their way up - I'm on the ninth deck."
The cruise ship was caught up in the global coronavirus epidemic after an 80-year-old Hong Kong man, who joined for part of the 14-day cruise, tested positive for the virus after disembarking in Hong Kong on January 25.
The man had joined a shore excursion in Kagoshima, southwestern Japan, on January 22, local media reported.
Everyone on board on the ship since Monday had received initial health screening, Kato said on Wednesday, a process that identified 273 people for testing.
Of that smaller group, 31 results had been received so far, revealing the 10 confirmed cases.
Kato said officials would continue to monitor the remaining passengers and crew for the potential development of symptoms, suggesting more test samples could be taken.
Australian Associated Press