U.S. joins Canada in quarantining repatriated passengers of coronavirus-hit cruise ship

More than 300 American cruise ship passengers, including 14 who tested positive for coronavirus, were being quarantined at military bases in California and Texas on Monday after arriving from Japan on charter flights overnight.

One plane carrying cruise passengers touched down at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California just before midnight Sunday, while another arrived at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas early Monday. The passengers will remain at the bases for two weeks.

Japan’s Defence Minister Taro Kono tweeted earlier that Japanese troops helped transport 340 U.S. passengers on 14 buses from Yokohama port to Tokyo’s Haneda airport. About 380 Americans were on the cruise ship.

The U.S. said it arranged for the evacuation because people on the Diamond Princess were at a high risk of exposure to the new virus that’s been spreading in Asia. For the departing Americans, the evacuation cuts short a 14-day quarantine that began aboard the cruise ship Feb. 5.

The State Department announced later that 14 of the evacuees received confirmation they had the virus but were allowed to board the flight because they had no symptoms. They were being kept isolated from other passengers on the flight, the U.S. State and Health and Human Services said in a joint statement.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said Sunday an infected person who shows minimal symptoms could still pass the virus to someone else.

Paul Molesky, right, and Cheryl Molesky, who evacuated off the quarantined cruise ship the Diamond Princess, film a selfie video aboard a Kalitta Air plane bound for the U.S., at Haneda airport in Tokyo. (Cheryl and Paul Molesky/The Associated Press)

It’s unclear which base the 14 who tested positive for the virus went to.

Officials said the evacuees who arrived at Travis Air Force Base will be housed at a different location from the more than 200 other Americans who were already being quarantined on the base, in a hotel. Those people have been at the base since early February, when they arrived on flights from China.

No Travis officials will have contact with the passengers, officials said.

Now that they’re in the U.S., the cruise ship passengers must go through another 14 days of quarantine at the military facilities — meaning they will have been under quarantine for nearly four weeks.

Other governments follow suit

Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and Italy were planning similar flights of passengers.

On Saturday, the Canadian government said it had chartered a plane to bring home many of the 255 Canadians aboard Diamond Princess, off Yokohama, Japan, where some 3,500 passengers have been stuck for 10 days amid an outbreak of the novel coronavirus. So far, 454 people have been infected, including at least 15 from Canada, three of whom have been hospitalized.

On Saturday, the Canadian government said it was sending a chartered plane to repatriate the Canadian passengers who are not showing symptoms.

The quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship is seen in the background as buses carrying U.S. passengers whom were on the ship leave Yokohama port, near Tokyo, early Monday. (Jun Hirata/Kyodo News via AP)

Those who are transported back to Canada will be placed under quarantine for 14 days. There are also 330 Hong Kong residents and 35 Italians, including crew members, on board the ship or undergoing treatment in Japanese hospitals. 

Passenger Trudy Clement, of Port Dover, Ont., told CBC News Monday that she and her husband are still waiting for results from a throat swab they had taken two days ago to determine if they’ve contracted the virus. 

“It’s bad enough having to be here for two weeks but not knowing anything, it’s extremely stressful,” she said.

Watch: Trudy Clement describes the wait for news aboard the Diamond Princess:

The Canadian government says it’s chartered a plane to bring home many of the 255 Canadians aboard the cruise ship that has been quarantined for 10 days amid a coronavirus outbreak. 6:16

If she does test positive for the virus, she’ll be removed from the ship and taken to hospital in Japan.

If not, the passengers will be tested for any symptoms when they disembark, then again when they arrive in Trenton, Ont. Then they’ll face another two-week quarantine in Cornwall.

The quarantine in Canada will be good for the peace of mind of friends, family and the community, she said.

Watch: Health minister says Canadians to be repatriated ‘later this week’

Health Minister Patty Hajdu says the government is working to bring home a number of Canadians onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in quarantine off Japan. 0:24

She said all the passengers she’s been able to talk to on board agree that Canadian aid did not come quickly enough.

“If this had of been started earlier, it would have ended earlier,” she said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a Qantas flight was being arranged to evacuate Australian passengers, who would be quarantined at a facility near Darwin upon arrival on Wednesday. The flight will return some New Zealand evacuees to their home country as well, he said.

New cases

The latest updates follow the release in China’s official media of a recent speech by President Xi Jinping in which he indicated for the first time that he had led the response to the outbreak from early in the crisis. While the reports were an apparent attempt to demonstrate the Communist Party leadership acted decisively from the start, it also opened Xi up to criticism over why the public was not alerted sooner.

In his speech, Xi said he gave instructions on fighting the virus on Jan. 7 and ordered the shutdown of the most-affected cities. The disclosure of his speech indicates top leaders knew about the outbreak’s potential severity at least two weeks before such dangers were made known to the public.

Health authorities reported 2,048 new cases of the virus and 105 more deaths. Another 10,844 people have recovered from COVID-19, a disease caused by the new coronavirus, and have been discharged from hospitals, according to Monday’s figures. The death toll is 1,770.

A medical worker in protective suit takes a break at an isolated ward of Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak, in Hubei province, China, on Sunday. (China Daily via Reuters)

With fears of the virus spreading further, Chinese and residents of nearby countries and territories have begun hoarding supplies of everything from masks and other personal protective gear to instant noodles, cooking oil and toilet paper.

In Hong Kong, local media reported that police had arrested two men and were seeking three others who allegedly stole a load of 60 packs of toilet paper at knifepoint early Monday morning. Supplies of the commodity have become extremely scarce, with often only low-quality imports still available. Police were expected to discuss the matter later.

Another 1,200 doctors and nurses from China’s military began arriving in Wuhan on Monday morning, the latest contingent sent to help shore up the city’s overwhelmed health-care system.

The city has rapidly built two prefabricated hospitals and converted gymnasiums and other spaces into wards for those showing milder symptoms, but residents still say they are being wait-listed for beds and even ambulance rides.

Wuhan has accounted for the vast majority of mainland China’s 70,548 cases. Some 60 million people in that area and other parts of China are under lockdown in a bid to prevent the virus from spreading further.

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