American Cruise Ship Passengers Tested Positive for Coronavirus During Evacuation From Quarantined Vessel

Over a dozen Americans who were removed from a cruise ship quarantined over the deadly new coronavirus have been allowed on an evacuation aircraft after testing positive for the bug called COVID-19, according to U.S. officials.

On Sunday, the U.S. Department of State said in a statement, over 300 U.S. citizens and their immediate family members were voluntarily taken off the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has been docked at the port city of Yokohama, south of Tokyo, since February 3 after a passenger was diagnosed with COVID-19.

Before evacuating the individuals from the ship, medical professionals from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) performed tests on the passengers, and concluded they had no symptoms of the respiratory virus, and were fit to travel on a chartered aircraft destined for the U.S..

During the evacuation process, after the passengers had left the ship and had started heading to the airport, U.S. officials were notified that 14 individuals had tested positive for COVID-19. They had been tested two to three days prior, the department said.

"These individuals were moved in the most expeditious and safe manner to a specialized containment area on the evacuation aircraft to isolate them in accordance with standard protocols," the statement read.

There were no further details on the containment area. The sick were isolated from other passengers, and were not showing symptoms of the virus, which include fever, feeling fatigued, a dry cough and shortness of breath.

After consulting with HHS officials, the State Department decided to allow the 14 people to stay on the aircraft. The flights left Japan at around 4:30 p.m. eastern time, and are due to arrive in the U.S. this morning.

"During the flights, these individuals will continue to be isolated from the other passengers," the State Department said.

The statement went on: "All passengers are being closely monitored by medical professionals throughout the flight, and any who become symptomatic will be moved to the specialized containment area, where they will be treated."

diamond princess cruises, coronavirus, covid-19, 2019-ncov
A member of the Self Defense Forces wearing a protective suit and a mask drives a bus carrying American citizens from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship at Haneda airport on February 17, 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty

When the flights land, passengers will leave the plane at Travis Air Force Base or Joint Base San Antonio. They will remain under quarantine for 14 days, in addition to the almost fortnight they have spent on the Diamond Princess Cruise ship. It is thought to take between two and 14 days for symptoms of COVID-19 to appear after a person is first infected.

On Sunday, the U.S. Embassy to Tokyo appeared to acknowledge the upset the additional quarantine time might cause passengers in an email to U.S. citizens onboard announcing the evacuation over the weekend. It stated: "We understand this is frustrating and an adjustment, but these measures are consistent with the careful policies we have instituted to limit the potential spread of the disease. We appreciate your understanding and cooperation and will provide all the assistance we can to support the quarantine process."

Those who develop symptoms during the evacuation process and those with positive test results will be kept isolated on the flight, and taken to "an appropriate location for continued isolation and care," the State Department said.

"Every precaution to ensure proper isolation and community protection measures are being taken, driven by the most up-to-date risk assessments by U.S. health authorities," the State Department said.

Some 2,666 guests and 1,045  crew were originally onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship when it was first quarantined almost two weeks ago. A total of 355 people on the vessel, of a range of nationalities, have since been diagnosed with COVID-19. The quarantine period is due to end on February 19, according to its operator Princess Cruises.

A Princess Cruises spokesperson told Newsweek: "We are following guidance from the Japanese Ministry of Health on plans for disembarkation protocols to provide medical care for these new cases."

COVID-19 first started sickening workers at a wholesale seafood market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, Hubei province, late last year. Since then, 1,775 people have died, all but five in mainland China. There have been a total of 71,709 confirmed cases, 70,552 in mainland China. The other fatalities have occurred in Japan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and France.

As shown in the infographic by Statista below, the virus has spread to over two dozen countries and territories, including the U.S., with the first case in Africa, in Egypt, diagnosed on Friday.

statista, coronavirus cases, covid-19, 2019nCOV
An infographic showing where cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed across the world. Getty

This article has been updated with comment from Princess Cruises, and to include an infographic.

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