Dozens of HKers fly back home at their own expensesLocal | 22 Feb 2020 2:00 pm
The second chartered plane carrying 84 passengers who spent two weeks quarantined on the coronavirus-hit Diamond Princess Cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan landed in Hong Kong early Saturday morning, after a day of confusion that saw Japanese authorities attempt to bar dozens of people from boarding the flight.
Among the 84 passengers, 82 of them were Hong Kong residents, and the rest from Macau. The latter were brought back to the former Portugese colony by road from the airport.
As flight CX8541 touched down at Hong Kong International Airport at around 1.30 am, officers wearing protective gear quickly drop passengers descended from the plane onto coaches, bringing them to the newly-completed Chun Yeung Estate in Fo Tan where they will undergo two more weeks of quarantine.
120 passengers were originally waiting to return to the SAR after testing negative for the Covid-19 virus.
However, Erick Tsang, the director of Immigration, who is in Tokyo alongside other immigration officials to repatriate Hongkongers residents, said problems aroused early in the afternoon, as Japanese authorities suddenly announced that 29 people who had gotten off the virus-stricken ship should have remained on the cruise since they were considered to be close contacts of infected patients of the novel virus.
Some of the supposed “close contacts” were already at the airport for the time being, going through customs checks.
17 people were denied entry at the gate, along with one more Hong Kong passenger who had rushed to Haneda Airport from the ship.
Before the Japanese officials could make a final determination of whether they were actually close contacts of the confirmed patients, the chartered plane had been held up for hours, and the difficult decision had to be made to let the 84 passengers depart first, or risk the entire flight being canceled.
For the 18 passengers who were barred from boarding the plane, they decided to come back home on the Haneda-based ANA plane at their own expenses and were later sent to the quarantine center in Fo Tan.
Tsang added that the Japanese officials eventually apologized to all affected Hong Kong residents after admitting that they had mistakes in terms of the manifest, as well as their different interpretation of “close contacts”.
The SAR government is currently arranging a third chartered flight to bring back around 40 other Hongkongers stranded on the Diamond Princess cruise, who had close contact with confirmed coronavirus patients.
68 Hong Kong people on the ship have been diagnosed with COVID-19 so far, and are being treated in Japanese hospitals.
After the 14 days of quarantine during which passengers and crew were forced to remain on the ship, more than 630 were confirmed to have contracted the novel virus. Two former passengers have died.
Two Australians have also come down with the illness after returning to their home country, despite the fact that they initially tested negative for the virus in Japan.