More HK passengers aboard cruise ship test positive for virus

February 19, 2020 14:29
A total of 352 Hongkongers are stranded on the cruise ship Diamond Princess, which has been forced to dock at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, Japan. Photo: Reuters

The government is preparing to bring home Hong Kong residents quarantined aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has been forced to dock in Yokohama, Japan for several weeks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu on Wednesday morning said 53 Hong Kong residents aboard the vessel were confirmed to have Covid-19, more than double the number reported on Monday.

The confirmed cases would have to stay behind, along with family members traveling with them.

Lee said a total of 352 Hongkongers are stranded on the cruise ship and more than 200 have expressed willingness to board the two chartered flights arranged by the Hong Kong government for their return to the city on Wednesday.

Since Japan was handling the disembarking of passengers in batches at a slower pace than expected, a third chartered flight is likely needed, the security chief said.

Lee also learned from Japanese authorities that passengers who had tested negative for the virus could disembark in batches from Wednesday, the day the ship completed its 14-day quarantine period.

Director of Immigration Erick Tsang Kwok-wai arrived in Tokyo on Monday along with Undersecretary for Security Sonny Au Chi-kwong and 30 other officers to make preparations for the chartered flights.

Tsang told media on Tuesday night that the team was unable to ascertain how many of the stranded Hong Kong residents could disembark and get on the chartered flights on Wednesday. 

“Up till now, there are still many uncertainties on the arrangements of the Japanese side, including whether the Japanese authority can have the results of the virus tests for all passengers ready by [Wednesday] as planned, and whether the Hong Kong residents on board are permitted to disembark as a whole group,” Tsang said.

“We have made our demands to the Japanese authority," which have yet to respond, he said.

"In the meantime, we are preparing for different possible scenarios. We will make our best effort to take back the affected Hong Kong residents to Hong Kong as early as possible and provide support to those who cannot leave for the time being.”

Tsang said Hong Kong residents confirmed to have contracted the Covid-19 and family members traveling with them would have to stay in Japan.

Hong Kong government staff would stay behind to provide them with assistance, he said.

The immigration chief did not rule out the possibility of repatriating the Hong Kong passengers in several batches, although he hoped that they could all leave by Wednesday night.

He said another chartered flight might have to be arranged if necessary.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said on Wednesday that the passengers would have to undergo a 14-day compulsory quarantine upon their return to the city, even though the Japanese authorities had already placed them under quarantine aboard the ship for 14 days.

That's because “new confirmed cases of novel coronavirus continue to emerge on board up to the present time”, Lam said in a letter addressed to the Hong Kong passengers, which she uploaded on her Facebook page.

“If individual Hong Kong residents choose to return to Hong Kong by plane on their own after leaving the ship, they will also be required by our health authority to undergo compulsory quarantine at a quarantine center of up to 14 days upon their arrival in Hong Kong in accordance with the legal provision,” the letter said.

Lam said in the letter that the Japanese government would obtain test results of all passengers aboard the ship on Wednesday, and those who tested negative “will be arranged to leave the ship one after another”.

“The HKSAR Government has already arranged for two chartered flights with 438 seats each to bring you back to Hong Kong at night on 19 February,” Lam said. 

“However, given the large number of passengers on the ship, whether the journey can go ahead as planned still depends on the full support of the Japanese authorities. Our Country’s Embassy in Japan is assisting the HKSAR Government in earnest to secure the necessary co-operation,” she added.

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Secretary for Security John Lee (center) said 53 Hong Kong residents aboard the Diamond Princess were confirmed to have contracted the novel coronavirus. Photo: HKEJ