Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 5 June 2020

Coronavirus: US to evacuate Americans from Japan cruise ship as 67 more test positive

Those returning to the United States will have to undergo another 14 days of quarantine

Americans on board a cruise ship quarantined off Japan since early February over coronavirus fears will be evacuated and returned to the US via chartered flight, officials said on Saturday.

This came as another 67 people on the ship tested positive, according to Japan's Health Minister Katsunobu Kato.

The new cases, from 217 tests, bring the number of people diagnosed on the Diamond Princess to 285, excluding a quarantine officer who also contracted the illness.

The US embassy said those returning to the United States would have to undergo another 14 days of quarantine.

"The US government recommends, out of an abundance of caution, that US citizens disembark and return to the United States for further monitoring," the statement said.

Washington will send a chartered plane to Japan for the evacuation on Sunday, the message said.

It was not clear when the plane will depart Japan, but the letter said it will land at Travis Air Force Base in California.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK said some 400 Americans were on board the cruise ship and the plane will leave Tokyo's Haneda airport as soon as early Monday.

"Passengers will be screened for symptoms and we are working with our Japanese partners to ensure that any symptomatic passengers receive the required care in Japan if they cannot board the flight," the message said.

"Should you choose not to return on this charter flight, you will be unable to return to the United States for a period of time," it added.

While some Americans on the ship have urged their government to extract them from the boat, others on board criticised the plan.

"Incredibly disappointed that the US Government has decided to throw a monkey wrench into the quarantine we have maintained here on board the Diamond Princess," tweeted Matt Smith, an American lawyer.

"The US Government... wants to take us off without testing, fly us back to the US with a bunch of other untested people, and then stick us in 2 more weeks of quarantine? How does that make any sense at all?"

There were more than 3,700 people on the ship when it arrived off the Japanese coast in early February. It was placed into quarantine after a passenger who got off the boat in Hong Kong tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The illness has killed more than 1,500 people and infected at least 66,000 in China while spreading to more than two dozen other countries, sparking an unprecedented containment effort.

On Friday, Japan's government gave passengers on the Diamond Princess aged 80 or older and in poor health the chance to move from the ship to quarantine accommodation on land.

Updated: February 15, 2020 03:35 PM

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