Tokyo: Fourteen Americans who were evacuated from a cruise ship in Japan were placed in segregated areas of a chartered flight Monday after they were found to have the new coronavirus shortly before boarding the plane to the United States, American officials said.
The passengers were among more than 300 Americans aboard a cruise ship that has been quarantined in Yokohama for more than 10 days. US officials initially said they would not allow infected people to board the evacuation flights but appeared to reverse that decision early Monday.
“During the evacuation process, after passengers had disembarked the ship and initiated transport to the airport, US officials received notice that 14 passengers, who had been tested 2 to 3 days earlier, had tested positive for COVID-19,” the State Department and Department of Health and Human Services said in a joint statement, referring to the illness caused by the new coronavirus.
The cruise ship ‘Diamond Princess’, by far the largest cluster of coronavirus cases outside China, has become the biggest test so far of other countries’ ability to contain an outbreak that has killed 1,770 people in China and five elsewhere.
The 14 infected passengers were moved into a specialised containment area on the evacuation aircraft, where they were to be isolated and monitored. They had been found to be asymptomatic and “fit to fly” before the evacuation.
At least one flight landed Monday morning at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California. All passengers on that flight will undergo a 14-day quarantine. Those that develop symptoms or test positive will be sent to “an appropriate location for continued isolation and care”, the statement added. The United States has 15 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus. That number will nearly double when the 14 infected passengers arrive.
UPDATES AT A GLANCE
• In Japan, a public gathering to celebrate the birthday of new Emperor Naruhito later this week has been cancelled, due to concerns over the spread of the virus.
• Also in Japan, organisers of the Tokyo marathon due to take place on 1 March have cancelled the amateur part of the race, affecting some 38,000 runners, after cases of the virus were confirmed in Tokyo. Only elite runners will be allowed to take part.
• In China, the National People’s Congress standing committee said it would meet next week to discuss a delay of this year’s Congress — the Communist Party’s most important annual gathering — because of the outbreak.
• A Russian woman who was ordered to go back to a quarantine facility by a St Petersburg court has returned to hospital. Last week, Alla Ilyina escaped from the facility after testing negative three times for the virus, but was told to remain quarantined for two weeks.