Coronavirus: Britons on Diamond Princess cruise ship to be flown home

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A worker in protective gear is seen on the cruise ship Diamond Princess seen at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of TokyoImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
The ship has been docked in Yokohama, a city south of Tokyo, since 3 February

Britons stranded on a quarantined cruise ship in Japan will be able to board an evacuation flight home on Friday, the foreign secretary has said.

Only those who are showing no signs of illness will be able to travel, and they will be quarantined on their return to the UK.

Those who have tested positive will remain in Japan for treatment.

Dominic Raab said the flight would be from Tokyo, and urged any other Britons who wanted to leave to get in touch.

There were 78 British nationals on board the Diamond Princess cruise liner when it was quarantined on 5 February, after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong was found to have the virus.

More than 620 people onboard the cruise ship - which was carrying 3,700 passengers - have tested positive for the condition. It is the largest cluster of cases outside China.

Two passengers from the ship have now died. The Japanese citizens were in their 80s and had underlying health conditions, local media said.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
One of the passengers from the ship catching a taxi after being allowed to leave

On Wednesday, when the two-week quarantine period on the liner expired, officials allowed passengers who had tested negative for the virus to disembark.

But the Foreign Office advised all UK nationals to stay onboard until it organised an evacuation flight for them, warning there could be administrative problems if they left the ship.

Earlier, Mr Raab said a UK-chartered flight had been arranged, with details sent to those who had registered for the flight.

It is expected to land at Boscombe Down, a Ministry of Defence base in Wiltshire, early on Saturday morning.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Some passengers who had disembarked left on buses
Image source, Reuters
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The cruise operator and Japanese officials allowed passengers to leave on Wednesday, UK time

Those returning from the ship will spend 14 days at Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral, where two groups of people travelling from China have already been taken.

"There is no risk to the public, and the hospital will continue to run as normal," the Department of Health said.

Meanwhile, one of the British passengers who has tested positive for the virus has posted a picture of himself in a hospital bed in Japan.

David Abel revealed earlier this week that he and his wife Sally had both been told they had the virus.

Image source, David Abel/Facebook
Image caption,
David Abel and his wife Sally, from Northamptonshire, are being treated in a hospital in Japan

Another British passenger, Alan Sandford, and his wife Vanessa were both "very happy" about the prospect of returning home to Nottinghamshire after being found not to have contracted the virus.

He told BBC Breakfast the last few weeks had been "a major inconvenience" but that other passengers had faced "horrific" circumstances such as getting ill, being seperated from their partners or being trapped inside cabins without windows.

Image caption,
Alan Sandford says he and his wife have their fingers crossed they will be on the evacuation flight to the UK

Meanwhile, British honeymooner Alan Steele, who was diagnosed with coronavirus on the cruise ship, announced on Facebook that he had left hospital and was in a hotel in Yokohama - ahead of his return to the UK.

Japan has faced criticism over its handling of the outbreak, with one health expert calling the situation onboard "completely chaotic".

The Foreign Office is advising affected British nationals affected to call the British embassy in Tokyo on +81 3 5211 1100.

Elsewhere, any British passengers on board a cruise ship docked in Cambodia amid fears of an outbreak will not be treated as being at high risk of coronavirus, Public Health England (PHE) has said.

The MS Westerdam made shore in Sihanoukville on 13 February, after being rejected by five countries because one of its former passengers was found to be carrying the virus.

The ship was originally carrying 2,257 people - including a reported 100 Britons - with the majority having already disembarked - leaving 255 passengers and 747 crew members on board.

Image source, EPA/MAK REMISSA
Image caption,
The majority of passengers have disembarked the MS Westerdam Cambodia, pictured here at Preah Sihanouk port last week

PHE said any of the ship's passengers flying back to the UK will be asked to self-isolate when they return.

In China, Covid-19 - the illness brought on by the coronavirus - has now claimed 2,004 lives, according to the latest Chinese data released on Wednesday.

There have been 74,185 confirmed infections recorded in mainland China and about 700 cases in other countries.

In the UK, a total of 5,549 people had been tested for the virus, as of Thursday at 14:00 GMT. Only nine people have tested positive.

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