WASHINGTON – The American Embassy in Tokyo said Saturday that the U.S. government will send a chartered aircraft to evacuate its citizens from the virus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship — where 67 more infections were reported Saturday — presently quarantined in Yokohama.
Passengers and crew members have been complaining about deteriorating sanitary conditions. They said there has been no cleaning services onboard and that bedsheets have not been changed for several days.
With global attention increasingly focused on the situation on the cruise ship, the U.S. Embassy sent a letter Saturday to Americans on the ship that says the chartered aircraft will arrive in Japan on Sunday evening and buses will pick up the passengers and their belongings and take them to the airport.
“To fulfill our government’s responsibilities to U.S. citizens under our rules and practices, as well as to reduce the burden on the Japanese healthcare system, the U.S. government recommends, out of an abundance of caution, that U.S. citizens disembark and return to the United States for further monitoring,” it said.
The aircraft will land at Travis Air Force Base in California. Some passengers will then continue onward to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. The passengers will need to undergo a further quarantine of 14 days when they arrive in the U.S, the letter said.
Japan will also cooperate with other countries that make similar arrangements to evacuate their citizens on the ship, Japanese government officials said. The U.S. aircraft is set to depart from Haneda Airport in Tokyo on Monday, they said.
More than a week has passed since the cruise ship, now with around 3,400 passengers and crew aboard, was put under a two-week quarantine at Yokohama port after a passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong was found to be infected with COVID-19, the pneumonia-causing coronavirus.
Japan’s health ministry had initially planned to keep all of the passengers and crew confined on the vessel until Wednesday, when the quarantine is scheduled to end.
But the ministry decided last Thursday to let passengers 80 and older, as well as their traveling companions, leave before the end of the quarantine after they were screened for infection. Those with pre-existing conditions or who were staying in cabins without windows were prioritized for disembarkation.