An elderly couple aboard the ‘Diamond Princess’ cruise ship in Japan, where over 620 cases of coronavirus were confirmed, has succumbed to the illness. The fatalities come as Tokyo allows hundreds of passengers to return home.

Both passengers were in their 80s, according to public broadcaster NHK, and are the first on board the ship to die of the virus, which has spread to more than 75,000 people and killed over 2,100 worldwide since last December.

So far, the majority of fatalities have involved elderly patients with pre-existing conditions.

The ship was initially quarantined on February 3 with around 3,700 people on board, and has since turned into the largest disease hotspot outside China.

After more than two weeks in isolation, as the number of those infected soared to over 620 people, Japanese authorities allowed some 600 passengers to leave the ship on Wednesday and board flights back home, with several hundred more expected to disembark the following day.

So far, the US has evacuated some 328 American citizens from the vessel on two chartered flights, 14 of whom were confirmed to carry the virus just as they were heading to the airport. They were isolated from the others on board the plane and remain in quarantine in the US.

Over 150 Australian passengers were allowed to return home – where they face another two-week observation period – while several Hong Kong citizens also disembarked.

Canada, Britain and Indonesia are slated to carry out similar evacuations for citizens aboard the ill-fated cruise liner in the coming days.

More than 130 Indian crew members will be the last to depart the ship, forced to endure another two weeks on board before facing yet another 14-day quarantine at home.

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