Flight home pondered for HK residents from cruise quarantine

Friday, February 14, 2020

Hong Kong is reportedly exploring options, including a chartered flight, to bring residents quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan back home, RTHK reports.

Ten Hong Kong people are among 218 people on board the Diamond Princess who have been confirmed to be infected with the new coronavirus. Hundreds more people from Hong Kong are on the ship.

Some residents on board have said they understand that they only have to remain in quarantine until February 19, but a source told RTHK it is not clear this is so.

The source said officials who have been liaising with the Japanese government have been unable to determine an exact date for when passengers will be allowed to leave.

Four local immigration officers in Yokohama are also trying to figure out whether people on board want to return to Hong Kong after the quarantine, or if they have other destinations.

DAB lawmaker Vincent Cheng said he has heard from one of the infected patients that he is worried about medical treatment in Japan, and is having difficulty communicating with medics because of the language barrier.

Cheng urged the government to make the necessary arrangements as quickly as possible.

Meantime, the first people cleared of the coronavirus began disembarking from the Diamond Princess to finish their isolation in government-designated lodging today.

Japan's government has given passengers aged 80 or older in poor health or confined to windowless inner cabins on the Diamond Princess the chance to move from the ship to accommodation on land. But only those who test negative for the virus have the option to move.

The first of them left the massive cruise ship in the afternoon in buses with blacked out windows. At the wheel, one driver was dressed in a head-to-toe white protective suit, complete with goggles and mask.

A government official said 11 people had left, but declined to say whether more would leave today or offer further details.

Senior health ministry official Gaku Hashimoto boarded the ship to announce that all passengers "who are considered to be high risk in general health" would now be tested for the virus.

"Those who test positive will be transferred to the hospital. Those who test negative will – at the request of the individual – disembark and be transferred to accommodation provided by the government," he said in a statement in English read out by the ship's captain in a public broadcast.

"We are aware that many people are worried and concerned about the situation. However, to improve the situation as much as possible, the government is making its best efforts," the statement said.

There were more than 3,700 people on the ship when it arrived off the Japanese coast last week, but those diagnosed with the virus have been taken off the boat, along with some people suffering other health conditions requiring medical attention.

The Diamond Princess has been quarantined off Japan since early February after it emerged a former passenger who got off the boat in Hong Kong had tested positive for the virus. (Additional reporting by AFP)