A Japanese infectious disease specialist has castigated his government's handling of quarantine on a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship, saying it was run by "bureaucrats" who stoked the crisis by failing to follow basic protocols.
Hundreds of passengers held on board a cruise ship under quarantine for more than two weeks were allowed off near Tokyo on Wednesday.
More will be allowed to disembark over the next two days.
Even as they trundled off the Diamond Princess ship with their suitcases, Japanese authorities announced another 79 new cases of the coronavirus on board.
That brought the total above 620 -- well over half the known cases outside mainland China.
The ordeal for those onboard began 16 days ago, when a man who got off in Hong Kong before it travelled to Japan was diagnosed with the virus.
The ship originally carried some 3,700 passengers and crew.
And now a Japanese infectious disease specialist at Kobe University Hospital has condemned his government's handling of the quarantine on the ship.
Kentaro Iwata volunteered to help onboard the cruiseliner.
(SOUNDBITE) (English) INFECTION CONTROL SPECIALIST AT KOBE UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL, PROFESSOR KENTARO IWATA, SAYING: (ON HIS VISIT TO CORONAVIRUS-STRICKEN CRUISE SHIP DIAMOND PRINCESS): "It turned out that the cruise ship was completely inadequate in terms of the infection control.
There was no distinction between the green zone, which is free of infection and the red zone which is potentially contaminated with the virus.
There was no single professional infection control person inside the ship and there was nobody in charge of infection prevention as a professional.
The bureaucrats were in charge of everything." Japan's health minister has defended his country's efforts, saying "appropriate steps" to prevent serious cases had been taken.
Around half of the passengers and crew are Japanese.
Other countries have said they will fly their nationals home and quarantine them on arrival.
Canada is chartering a plane on Thursday or Friday for the more than 200 Canadians who were on board.
The United States has already flown more than 300 home to air bases in California and Texas.
Meanwhile the death toll from this global health crisis continues to rise.
On Wednesday, China's latest figures showed there were now more than 74,000 cases of the coronavirus and 2,004 deaths -- most of them in Hubei province.
There was a slim glimmer of hope though -- the tally of newly reported cases falling for a second day to the lowest since late January.
Beyond mainland China, six people have died from the disease -- governments around the world doing everything they can to prevent it from spreading into a global epidemic.