TOKYO (Reuters) – Hundreds of passengers were preparing to be evacuated from a cruise ship on Sunday after spending two weeks under quarantine off Japan over the coronavirus, with Americans expected to begin flying home on chartered planes as soon as Sunday evening.
Seventy more people were confirmed with the virus on board the Diamond Princess on Sunday, bringing the number of cases from the ship to 355, the most anywhere outside China.
Canada, South Korea, Hong Kong and Italy have followed the United States in announcing flights to bring home their citizens from the ship, which has been under quarantine since Feb. 3.
Countries have said passengers should be symptom-free to board the flights, and are likely to face quarantine on arrival.
An announcement from the captain blared over loudspeakers on Sunday, informing American guests who were willing to disembark that they were scheduled to leave from 9 p.m. (1200 GMT)
“Leaving in a few hours. No details. Might be going to Texas or Nebraska,” Gay Courter, one of the American passengers on board, told Reuters. She said she expected to spend another two weeks in quarantine on U.S. soil.
Another American passenger, Matthew Smith, posted a photo on Twitter showing a fleet of about 11 coaches parked on the shore near the ship to transport U.S. nationals.
Smith said American officials, dressed in full hazmat suits and face masks, had visited his room to check if he would disembark. He said he wanted to stay.
Yardley Wong, a passenger from Hong Kong, told Reuters: “We are planning to leave if we test negative,” although she said she had yet to receive any official notice from Hong Kong authorities.
The ship, owned by Carnival Corp., has been held in the Japanese port of Yokohama with 3,700 passengers and crew on board since a man who had disembarked in Hong Kong was diagnosed with the virus two weeks ago.
Those with the disease have been taken to hospital in Japan and no one from the ship has died. Around half of the guests onboard are from Japan.
The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said passengers and crew on board the ship were at high risk of exposure to the virus and it recommended that its citizens get off and take one of the flights home.
“This is a rapidly evolving situation and we are taking additional steps to assist U.S. citizens,” it said.
All passengers would be screened before being allowed to board the chartered flights and everyone would be quarantined for 14 days upon arrival back in the United States.
“No symptomatic or infected passengers will be allowed to board,” it said.
Clyde Smith, 80, who was taken from the ship to a Tokyo hospital after testing positive for the virus, told Reuters on Sunday he had not been told if he would be allowed on a U.S. evacuation plane.
Latest figures from Beijing on Sunday showed 68,500 cases of the illness and 1,665 deaths, mostly in Hubei province.
Japan detected six fresh cases of the coronavirus on Sunday, apart from those on the ship, NHK reported, taking the total number of in-land infections to 59.
Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto, Linda Sieg, William Mallard and Ju-min Park in Tokyo, Donny Kwok and Anne Marie Roantree in Hong Kong; Editing by Peter Graff, Richard Pullin, Robert Birsel