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Coronavirus: Confusion over British cruise couple's positive test

David Abel and his wife Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Two Britons on the ship, Sally and David Abel, have told their son they have tested positive for the virus

Doubts have been raised over whether a British couple on a quarantined cruise ship in Japan have tested positive for coronavirus as earlier believed.

The son of Sally and David Abel, from Northamptonshire, told the BBC his parents said they had both tested positive and were going to hospital.

However, hours later David Abel suggested on Facebook there had been a "massive communication error".

The couple are among 74 British nationals on the Diamond Princess ship.

The ship, which was quarantined on 3 February, is in the port of Yokohama.

On Tuesday, Japanese officials said there were 88 new cases of infection on board the ship, bringing the total to 542 confirmed cases. It is the largest cluster of cases outside China.

The Foreign Office said it was "working to organise a flight back to the UK" for British nationals and an evacuation is expected to take place within the next two to three days.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said it had "the utmost concern" for the British people on the ship and was "ensuring those who have been diagnosed with coronavirus receive the best possible care in Japan".

Mr and Mrs Abel's son Steve told BBC Breakfast that his father had emailed him on Tuesday morning to tell him they had both tested positive.

However, on Tuesday evening, a Facebook post from Mr Abel's account explained the confusion over the positive test, saying the Japanese quarantine officials did not speak any English.

He added: "The consulate in Tokyo are being very good with me. I am being listened to and Sally & I feel really well."

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Media captionSteve Abel, the son of a British couple on board the Diamond Princess, says they are "in the dark"

Earlier, Steve said he could hear his father vomiting in the bathroom while on the phone to his mother earlier but he believed it was due to "shock" rather than a symptom of the disease.

The conditions on the ship had made it difficult for his father to manage his type-2 diabetes, he said, adding that he would prefer his parents to be quarantined in the UK "where the food is more suitable for my dad".

"I'm not actually that worried about the virus - looking at the recovery stats. It is more about the stress, the diet," Steve said.

Steve said the UK government's treatment of his parents had been "appalling", adding: "They haven't got back to us on anything and we have been calling them every day for four or five days."

"They are very high-spirited people," he said. "But in the last two days I've seen the cracks in the armour and they are getting down."

Image copyright EPA
Image caption About 3,700 people are quarantined on board the Diamond Princess

Another British passenger on board the ship, Elaine Spencer, said she had been "very disappointed" with the UK government's initial response and they should have organised a rescue flight sooner.

She told Radio 4's Today programme that British passengers who wanted to get on the rescue flight had to sign an agreement that they would go into quarantine for 14 days on their return to the UK.

She said they had received a note from the Foreign Office which told them that if they didn't get on the flight, it was unlikely they would be allowed out of Japan.

"I need to go home, I want to see my family but obviously it's going to be another 14 days (after the flight). I wish that they'd decided to do this last week."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The US chartered two planes to bring back its citizens from the cruise ship

The president of Princess Cruises, Jan Swartz, said the company has sent more doctors and nurses on to the ship.

There is still uncertainty over whether passengers will be allowed to leave the ship at the end of the 14-day quarantine period on Wednesday.

According to official figures on Monday, four Britons with confirmed coronavirus are currently in hospital in Japan.

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney confirmed two out of six Irish passengers on the Princess Diamond tested positive for the virus and are being treated in hospital in Japan.

Mr Coveney said the passengers have dual citizenship with another EU member state and did not normally live in Ireland - but that the Irish embassy in Tokyo was in contact with them.

On Tuesday South Korea joined the list of the countries and territories also planning to get their residents off the ship - a list which already includes Canada, Australia, the UK, Israel and Hong Kong.

The US has already repatriated more than 300 of its citizens from the ship.

In a statement in the early hours of Tuesday morning, the Foreign Office said its staff had been making "necessary arrangements" with British nationals onboard the ship to organise a flight back to the UK.

"We urge all those who have not yet responded to get in touch immediately," it added.

Affected British nationals should call the British embassy in Tokyo on +81 3 5211 1100.

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Media captionThe MS Westerdam docked in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, after being turned away from five ports

Meanwhile, a search continues for passengers who disembarked the MS Westerdam cruise ship in Cambodia, after a woman who had been onboard the ship tested positive for the virus.

Early fears of the ship being affected by the virus meant it was turned away from five ports in Asia. Passengers were allowed off the ship on Friday after no cases were found among the 2,257 people onboard, cruise line firm Holland America said.

The 83-year-old American woman tested positive after disembarking from the ship and then travelling to Malaysia.

An undisclosed number of Britons who were on the Westerdam are being tested for coronavirus in Cambodia, the Foreign Office said.

As of Tuesday at 14:00 GMT, in the UK a total of 4,916 people had been tested for coronavirus. Only nine people have tested positive and the rest have been confirmed negative.

In a phone call, President Xi of China thanked Prime Minister Boris Johnson for the UK's donation of "vital medical equipment" to help China cope with the virus outbreak, a Downing Street spokeswoman said.


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