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HONG KONG — More than 5,300 people are being quarantined on two cruise ships off Hong Kong and Japan amid concerns passengers and crew were inadvertently exposed to the Wuhan coronavirus by infected passengers.

People aboard both ships are being given health screenings, and those with suspicious symptoms are being tested for the virus that has quickly spread throughout mainland China and beyond.

The Diamond Princess is anchored off the coast of Yokohama, near Tokyo, with 1,045 crew and 2,666 passengers — including 428 Americans — on board.

The second ship, the World Dream, is docked at Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Cruise Terminal with 1,800 people on board, the city’s Department of Health said Wednesday.

Concerns about potential infection among thousands of passengers at sea expose the vulnerability of cruise ships to viral illnesses, like the coronavirus. The threat also raises questions about the durability of Asia’s booming leisure cruise industry, which counts the elderly as among its most loyal customers.

Older people are especially susceptible to the Wuhan coronavirus — China’s National Health Commission said Tuesday that 80{5ad3c25f5d8a6462a9daae157324f98d5b0edc4be0c0ed5ad8ca367936c1d337} of all fatalities in mainland China were over the age of 60.

The virus has infected more than 20,000 people in mainland China and nearly 200 worldwide across 25 countries and territories. It has claimed 492 lives worldwide, all but two in mainland China.

Cruise companies worldwide have vowed to enact extra measures to protect their customers from infection, with several barring passengers who have been to mainland China in the past 14 days.

Ships are considered particularly at risk from outbreaks, due to the close living quarters of passengers and crew. Researchers are still unsure exactly how the coronavirus spreads and how infectious it is.

Chinese officials had previously said that patients can be infectious even if they are not presenting symptoms. An early study on asymptomatic transmission of the virus published last week in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine appeared to confirm Chinese health officials’ assessment.

But public health officials now say the report may be flawed. Interviews with the Chinese patient at the center of the study revealed she may have actually had mild, nonspecific symptoms.

An important factor yet to be determined is whether the Wuhan coronavirus spreads via the fecal-oral route, like norovirus and Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), according to Dr. John Nicholls, a clinical professor in pathology at the University of Hong Kong.

Norovirus is a contagious stomach bug that causes vomiting and diarrhea that is notorious for infecting cruise passengers.

(PHOTO: Carl Court/Getty Images)