U.S. to evacuate American citizens aboard quarantined cruise ship off Japan: WSJ

TOKYO (Reuters) – The U.S. government is preparing to evacuate American citizens aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, the site of the most coronavirus infections found outside China and currently quarantined off Japan, the Wall Street Journal reported.

About 380 people will be offered seats on two planes back to the United States and could arrive back home as early as Sunday, the newspaper said, adding that those with a fever, cough or other symptoms will not be allowed on the flights.

Evacuees will have additional health screenings in the United States and some will probably undergo a mandatory quarantine, which will likely be 14 days, Henry Walke, an official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was quoted as saying.

The CDC was not immediately available for comment. The U.S. and Japanese governments said they have been in close contact with each other, but declined to confirm the report.

“We have had various exchanges with the U.S. government about how to respond to the situation,” Masato Otaka, press secretary for Japan’s Foreign Ministry, said via email.

One U.S. passenger, Sawyer Smith, 25, told Reuters that passengers had been told there would be an announcement from the captain later.

The prospect of potentially more time in quarantine seemed to dishearten others.

“We would like to just finish the quarantine on the ship as planned, decompress in a non-quarantine environment in Japan for a few days, then fly back to the U.S. pursuant to our own arrangements. What’s wrong with that?,” tweeted passenger Matthew Smith.

The cruise liner’s quarantine is set to end on Feb. 19.

The Diamond Princess cruise ship, owned by Carnival Corp, has been quarantined since arriving in Yokohama on Feb. 3, after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong before it traveled to Japan was diagnosed with the virus.

At the time, it had some 3,500 passengers and crew on board, of whom 218 have tested positive for the coronavirus infection and are now in Japanese hospitals.

Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Additional reporting by William Mallard and Ju-min Park in Tokyo and Aakriti Bhalla in Bengaluru; Editing by Edwina Gibbs

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