A Japanese infection control expert removed YouTube videos Thursday in which he criticized the handling of the coronavirus outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Yokohama, saying the situation had improved.

In a Twitter post, Kentaro Iwata, a professor at Kobe University Hospital, said, "I removed my YouTube clip myself since there is no need for further discussing this." The videos in Japanese and English had garnered over 1.5 million and 300,000 views, respectively.

Iwata told a video press conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan the same day, "The post became so viral and viewed by many people, and yesterday I was informed that significant improvement was done inside the cruise ship," denying he had been pressured to delete the videos.

In the videos, Iwata described the situation on the cruise ship as "chaotic" with bureaucrats in charge and no clear distinction between infected and infection-free zones.

Iwata was allowed aboard on Tuesday as a member of the government's disaster medical assistance team but was soon asked to leave the vessel for not doing what he was supposed to, according to the government.

"After posting on YouTube," the professor told the press conference, "the zoning changed, and the structure of infection prevention inside the cruise ship changed," adding "the role of the YouTube (post) was over."

The government rejected Iwata's criticism after the videos were uploaded on Tuesday.

"It's my understanding that infection control experts have been on duty all the time and zoning was done inside the ship," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the top government spokesman, said at a press conference.

(Iwata holds a press conference via Skype at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan on Feb. 20)

Highlights from Prof. Iwata's press conference:

On the deletion of his YouTube videos:

  • "After posting to YouTube, thankfully the zoning changed. And the structure of infection prevention inside the cruise ship changed and now we know that transmission dynamic of coronavirus infection inside the cruise, largely. So I think the role of the YouTube is over. To avoid further spread of misunderstanding and unnecessary division of views or hostile exchange of opinions, I just decided to remove everything."
  • "The significant improvement means there was significant room of improvement two days ago. You see, unless there was room of improvement, you can’t improve anymore. Some people say that Japan’s infection control was perfect, there was no lack of problems and everything was going well. That’s not true. It changed in one day. It changed significantly meaning it had a room to change, a lot. So, they were proving themselves that there was a problem two days ago."

On zoning and secondary infection issues aboard the Diamond Princess:

  • "According to my observation up until two days ago, I think the people who are on board, such as DMAT persons, officials of the Ministry of Health and Labor in quarantines, these people probably placed themselves in danger of receiving secondary transmissions because of the infection control problems. And it is still true right now. But because of the change occurring yesterday, the risk might have been significantly decreased. Still, because of the incubation period you might see the onset of the disease among those people from today and on."

On the Japanese government's decision to quarantine passengers and crew on the Diamond Princess:

  • "If you decided to keep people inside a cruise ship and isolate and put in the quarantine for 14 days, that has to be very, very thorough and has to be very complete because if you allow the secondary infection to occur, then that would become a day zero again, and that has to isolate the people for another 14 days. That could be painful for everybody."
  • "Why the situation inside the cruise ship had inadequate infection prevention, I think it's because of the lack of principles."
  • "The principle will never be given by the bureaucrats because they never had infection prevention training, they don't have experience and they don't have a system."

On the lack of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Japan:

  • "Scientific decision-making, independent body, and the autonomy and authority is needed. China has it, South Korea has it, because East Asia has a tendency to decide things (in the) backyards but people are beginning to change. Japan has never changed yet and I think we should."

On how to prevent infections from spreading in Japan:

  • "At least in Japan, there's no need for restricting any events or restricting commuting, restricting walking outside. I don't think there's any need for that as of now."
  • "We have to be prepared. We have to be extremely cautious but we shouldn't panic, that's my opinion."
  • "Japan's government (has) specifically cautioned the development of upper respiratory infections. Even if those symptoms could be mild, you have to keep yourself at home, you have to give up the typical Japanese mentality of working hard even if you are sick. That should go. You have to be at home, you have to be wise. Maybe you can work with your cell phone or computer at home. So we have to change." 

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