US evacuates its citizens from virus-hit cruise ship in Japan

February 17, 2020 09:14
US passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship who have chosen to leave are seen in a chartered evacuation aircraft at Haneda airport in Japan on Monday to fly back to the United States. Credit: Philip and Gay Courter via Reuters

American passengers were taken off a cruise liner on Sunday to fly home after being quarantined for two weeks off Japan, Reuters reports.

An announcement aboard the Diamond Princess, where 3,700 passengers and crew have been held since Feb. 3, told Americans to get ready to disembark on Sunday evening for charter flights home.

Passengers wearing masks could later be seen waving through the windows of buses parked near the ship.

Of the roughly 400 Americans on the cruise, more than 40 are infected with the virus and will stay in Japan for treatment, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute on Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

“They are not going to go anywhere. They’re going to be in hospitals in Japan,” Fauci told the CBS News program “Face the Nation.”

“People who have symptoms will not be able to get on the evacuation plane. Others are going to be evacuated starting imminently to air force bases in the United States.”

Kyodo News Agency said the flights carrying US passengers left Haneda Airport at around 1700 ET (2200 GMT).

Canadian, Italian, South Korean and Hong Kong passengers are expected to follow soon, after their governments also announced plans to repatriate passengers.

Seventy new coronavirus cases were confirmed on board, bringing the total on the ship to 355, by far the largest cluster of cases outside China. Fauci told the Washington Post there were 44 infected Americans.

The ship, owned by Carnival Corp, has been held in the port of Yokohama and those with the disease have been taken to hospital onshore. No one from the ship has died.

Countries that have announced plans to fly their citizens home from the ship say they will take them only if they are symptom-free, and quarantine them on arrival.

The US Department of Defense is preparing to receive two flights with passengers - one to land at Travis Air Force Base, California and the other at Kelly Field/Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

The evacuees will be subject to a 14-day quarantine.

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