Dozens of British guests trapped onboard a Princess Cruises ship quarantined off the coast of Japan owing to the coronavirus outbreak could be flown home later this week, the Foreign Office has said.
Guests began disembarking Diamond Princess on Wednesday (19 February) after the ship was held in the Japanese port of Yokohama for more than a fortnight in an attempt to contain the spread of the virus.
The ship was detained on 3 February with 2,666 guests and 1,045 crew onboard, more than 500 of whom have since tested positive for the Covid-19 coronavirus.
FCO officials are working on an “evacuation flight” from Tokyo back to the UK, which the FCO said it was hopeful of operating “later this week” subject to permission from the Japanese authorities.
However, an FCO spokesperson, cited by the national press, said there was a chance people who disembark the ship “will not be able to join the evacuation flight”.
“We have the utmost concern for the affected Britons and strongly encourage them to register for the evacuation flight,” the spokesperson added.
The government is yet to clarify via either the FCO or the Department of Health whether returning passengers will be required to complete another period of quarantine.
Britons repatriated earlier this month from Wuhan, the Chinese city where the outbreak is understood to have originated, were held at facilities on the Wirral and in Milton Keynes for two weeks.
Princess Cruises confirmed authorities in Australia and Hong Kong were working on repatriation efforts for affected citizens, guests and crew via charter flights due to depart on Wednesday, while a flight for Canadian citizens has been arranged for Friday (21 February).
“Based on information provided by the embassies directly to their citizens, they will also require an additional 14 days of quarantine upon arrival in their country of origin,” said Princess.
“A negative Covid-19 test following this quarantine will be required before [they are] allowed to travel to their final destination. We expect to receive confirmation of the exact numbers of those travelling on these charter flights after the flights have departed.”
Princess said the disembarkation process for guests not taking government repatriation flights would start on Wednesday, overseen by the Japanese Ministry of Health, and would take place over several days owing to a two to three-day testing process.
Princess president Jan Swartz has travelled to Japan to join the Princess team on the ground.
“Working in coordination with the Japanese Ministry of Health, Princess Cruises will be monitoring the progress of guests who have contracted Covid-19 and will be offering travel assistance to these individuals upon their recovery and delivery of a health certificate by Japanese health authorities,” Princess added.
“Because of the extraordinary circumstances onboard Diamond Princess, Princess Cruises is refunding the full cruise fare for all guests including air travel, hotel, ground transportation, pre-paid shore excursions, gratuities and other items.
“In addition, guests are not being charged for any onboard incidental charges during the additional time onboard. Princess Cruises will also provide guests with a future cruise credit equal to the cruise fare paid for the voyage.”