Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 6 April 2020

Coronavirus: infection spreads on Japanese cruise ship as Americans leave

US passengers were flown home by charter flight early on Monday

Hundreds of passengers were preparing on Monday to be moved from the cruise ship they had been quarantined on after spending two weeks off Japan amid the coronavirus outbreak.

US passengers flew home on chartered planes early on Monday morning.

Despite the evacuation efforts, 70 more people were confirmed to have the illness on board the Diamond Princess on Sunday, bringing the number of cases from the ship to 355, the most anywhere outside China.

“So far, we have conducted tests for 1,219 individuals. Of those, 355 people tested positive," said Katsunobu Kato, Japan’s health minister.

"Of those, 73 individuals are not showing symptoms.”

The luxury cruise ship with more than 3,000 passengers on board was struck by the virus this month, leaving them and the crew in confinement.

Two charter flights operated by Kalitta Air carrying a few hundred US passengers from the ship left from Tokyo's Haneda Airport on Monday morning.

The airline was involved in previous US repatriation operations prompted by the virus outbreak in China.

Canada, South Korea, Hong Kong and Italy have followed the US in announcing flights to bring home their citizens from the ship, which has been under quarantine since February 3.

Countries said passengers should be symptom-free to board the flights and are likely to face quarantine on arrival.

An American passenger on board the ship, Matthew Smith, posted photos on Twitter showing more than 10 buses arriving to take US citizens from Yokohama port to the airport.

Mr Smith said US officials in full hazardous material suits and masks, visited his room to check if he would disembark. He said he wanted to stay.

The charter flights were the only option for eligible US passengers to fly home until March 4 at the earliest, the US embassy in Tokyo said.

The ship, owned by Carnival Corp, has been held in Yokohama since a man who had disembarked in Hong Kong was diagnosed with the virus two weeks ago.

The ship, once bustling with busy restaurants, game nights and Broadway-style shows, has been reduced to silence.

Those with the disease have been taken to hospital in Japan. There have been no fatalities on board the ship.

About half of the guests are Japanese and there were about 400 US citizens on the ship, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The US embassy in Tokyo warned that those on board the ship were at high risk of exposure to the virus and it recommended its citizens to fly home.

"This is a rapidly evolving situation and we are taking additional steps to assist US citizens," the embassy said.

All passengers were to be screened before being allowed on the chartered flights and everyone would be quarantined for 14 days on arrival in the US.

"No symptomatic or infected passengers will be allowed to board," the embassy said.

The Australian embassy in Tokyo emailed its citizens on the vessel to say the federal government was also examining options to help them.

The embassy said it understood it was a “very stressful” situation for them and that Australian medical officers were working closely with Japanese officials to support them.

There are 68,500 cases of the virus in China and there have been 1,665 deaths, mostly in Hubei province in the centre of the country.

Japan on Sunday detected six new cases other than those on the ship, taking the total number of infections for the country to 59.

Updated: February 17, 2020 08:59 AM

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