Australia to evacuate over 200 from ship quarantined in Japan

Buses carrying US passengers from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship for repatriation. (AP pic)

SYDNEY: Australia will evacuate more than 200 of its citizens onboard a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship being held under quarantine in the Japanese port of Yokohama, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday.

Morrison said the passengers will depart on Wednesday and will be taken to Australia’s tropical north, where they will be required to be quarantined for another 14 days.

The Diamond Princess cruise ship, owned by Carnival Corp, has been quarantined since arriving in Yokohama on Feb 3, after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong before it travelled to Japan was diagnosed with the virus.

More than 350 passengers onboard the Diamond Princess have tested positive for coronavirus, including 24 Australians.

“For those more than 200 Australians who will be returning to Australia, we are going to have to require a further 14-day quarantine period to be put in place on their return to Darwin,” Morrison told reporters in Melbourne.

Morrison also said space on the Qantas Airways plane will be provided for an unspecified number of New Zealand citizens on the cruise ship.

Those passengers will be transferred to New Zealand when they arrive in Darwin, Morrison said.

Despite passengers’ spending two weeks confined to their cabins, some of which were windowless, Australian health officials said a further quarantine period was necessary.

“Given there have been recent cases, we cannot be absolutely sure that any of the currently well people on the ship who are coming home on Wednesday are not carrying the virus,” said Brendan Murphy, Australia’s chief medical officer.

On Sunday, the United States evacuated about 400 citizens from the Diamond Princess, while Canada, Italy, South Korea and Hong Kong have also announced plans to repatriate passengers.