U.S. to Evacuate American Citizens from Coronavirus-Quarantined Cruise Ship Diamond Princess

Americans onboard a cruise ship quarantined over the deadly new coronavirus will have the option of being removed from the vessel on Sunday, according to U.S. officials.

The U.S. Department of State and agencies including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will organize a chartered flight to bring any American citizens on the Diamond Princess cruise ship from Japan to the U.S., the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo confirmed in a statement.

The vessel has been docked at the port city of Yokohama, south of Tokyo, and those onboard quarantined for over a week after a passenger was diagnosed with the bug on February 1. The quarantine period is due to end on February 19, according to its operator Princess Cruises. It is thought to take between two and 14 days for symptoms of COVID-19 to appear after a person is first infected. On Wednesday, 44 new confirmed cases took the total passengers and crew to be infected on the ship to 218, the operator said. There were originally  2,666  guests and 1,045  crew on board, which has depleted as those sick have been taken to hospital.

The aircraft will arrive in Japan on the evening of February 16, the email sent at 3:24 a.m. local time stated. Buses will take U.S. citizens and their belongings from the ship to the aircraft. Passengers will then be screened for symptoms of COVID-19, which include fever, feeling fatigued, a dry cough and shortness of breath. Those who are sick will be treated in Japan if they cannot board the flight. The plane will head to Travis Air Force Base in California, and some passengers will be taken to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Passengers will be told of their final destination before boarding the flight, according to the email.

Passengers will be quarantined for 14 days after arriving in the U.S., in addition to the period spent on the cruise ship.

Appearing to acknowledge that this might anger passengers, the U.S. Embassy stated in the email: "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 don't wish to return on the chartered flight "will be unable to return to the United States for a period of time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make a final determination on this matter," according to the email.

U.S. citizens aboard the Diamond Princess, those being treated at local hospitals, and their friends and family can contact the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo on USGShipContact@state.gov or by calling (+81) 03-3224-5000.

Before the evacuation plan was announced, Sarah Arana, a medical social worker from Paso Robles, California, told the New York Times of the additional quarantine period: "If you add two weeks and we have to miss work, what does that mean for us?"

coronavirus, Japan, diamond princess cruise ship, Covid-19,
A bus with a driver wearing full protective gear departs from the dockside next to the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has around 3,600 people quarantined onboard due to fears of the new COVID-19 coronavirus, at the Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama port on February 14, 2020. - Japanese authorities were preparing Febraury 14 to move some older passengers who tested negative for the new coronavirus off a quarantined cruise ship and into government-designated lodging. (Photo by ) (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images) CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images

A spokesperson for Princess Cruises told Newsweek it was notified by the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo of the operation.

The spokesperson added: "Princess Cruises will continue to follow the direction of the Japanese Ministry of Health and as directed we will coordinate with the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. For information about their plans, please contact the U.S. Department of State."

On Wednesday, Prince Cruises said in a statement that it had been told by Japanese health officials they were planning to let guests leave the ship voluntarily in phases, so they can continue their quarantine period at a facility off-shore. "The most medically vulnerable guests [will be] in the first phase, including older adults with pre-existing health conditions," the operator said.

"According to officials, guests in the first group will be tested for the 2019 novel coronavirus. If the test is positive, they will be transported to a local hospital for further evaluation and isolation. If the test is negative, they will be given the option to leave the ship and be transported to a quarantine housing facility," the statement read.

Last week, a spokesperson for Princess Cruises told Newsweek the operator "continues to look for the most effective ways to help keep guests healthy, which includes mental health." That includes telephone access to trained English and Japanese-speaking counselors for guests.

Passengers also have complimentary internet and telephone access, "a large selection" of in-room movies in multiple languages, and more live TV channels than before. Staff have provided games, puzzles, and trivia to guests' rooms, as well as newspapers in 30 languages, and access to fitness and exercise videos.

Since the virus started sickening workers at a wholesale seafood market in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, Hubei province, late last year, 1,523 have died in mainland China in 66,495 cases. Japan, the Philippines and Hong Kong have each had one fatality. As shown in the infographic by Statista below, COVID-19 has spread to over two dozen countries and territories, including the U.S., but not South America or Africa.

This article has been updated with comment from a Princess Cruises spokesperson.

coronavirus case map update
A map shows where cases of the new coronavirus have been confirmed around the world. Statista