YOKOHAMA, Japan — The U.S. government will evacuate American passengers from the stricken cruise liner the Diamond Princess, it told passengers on Saturday, but will then hold them for a further 14-days quarantine back in the United States.
“We are deeply grateful to the cruise line and government of Japan for working diligently to contain and control the spread of the illness,” the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo wrote in an email to Americans on board the ship.
“However, to fulfill our government’s responsibilities to U.S. citizens under our rules and practices, as well as to reduce the burden on the Japanese health care system, the U.S. government recommends, out of an abundance of caution, that U.S. citizens disembark and return to the United States for further monitoring.”
The cruise ship was placed in 14-days quarantine on Feb 5, a process that was due to end on Feb. 19, at which passengers had expected to be able to return home. But as more tests were carried out on passengers and crew, it became obvious that a high percentage had the virus, and experts warned there was a risk it could still be spreading on board the ship.
In acknowledgment of those risks, Japan changed course this week and began evacuating some passengers before the quarantine period ended, beginning with people over 80 years old and with underlying health problems. It also stepped up its program of testing passengers.
So far, 218 passengers and crew on board the ship has tested positive for the virus, out of 713 people who have been assessed. There were 2,666 passengers and 1,045 crew on board the ship when it was placed in quarantine, but those found to have the virus have gradually been evacuated to hospitals around Japan.
After initially backing Japan’s approach toward the ship, the U.S. government has now also implicitly acknowledged that the Diamond Princess may not be the best place to keep its citizens.
The email said the State Department, working closely with the Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies, will provide a chartered aircraft to passengers directly from Japan to the Travis Air Force Base in California, and for some passengers on to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.,
The aircraft will arrive in Japan on Sunday evening. Passengers will be screened for symptoms and then taken by bus to the aircraft. “We are working with our Japanese partners to ensure that any symptomatic passengers receive the required care in Japan if they cannot board the flight,” the embassy said.
“Travelers returning to the United States from high-risk areas are required to undergo quarantine. Accordingly, you will need to undergo further quarantine of 14 days when you arrive in the United States,” the email said.
“We understand this is frustrating and an adjustment, but these measures are consistent with the careful policies we have instituted to limit the potential spread of the disease.”
Passengers who choose not to return on this flight will be unable to return to the United States “for a period of time,” the embassy wrote.
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