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Americans began leaving a quarantined cruise ship off Japan on Monday to board chartered flights home as the number of new coronavirus cases diagnosed on the vessel jumped to 355.
The evacuation came as Japanese authorities stepped up warnings over the deadly outbreak, urging citizens to avoid crowds and “non-essential gatherings.”
The Diamond Princess was placed in a 14-day quarantine in early February after a former passenger tested positive for the virus.
But US authorities announced Saturday they would offer Americans on board the option to leave the ship and fly home, where they will face another 14-day isolation period. Several other governments have announced plans to remove their citizens from the ship as well.
Late Sunday and into the early hours of Monday, Americans who opted to leave were brought off the ship in groups, passing through a makeshift passport control but undergoing no health checks, American passenger Sarah Arana told AFP.
Diamond Princess cruise ship passengers Cheryl and Paul Molesky are being flown back to the U.S. from Yokohama, Japan, cutting their 14-day #coronavirus quarantine short.
As soon as they arrive back in the U.S. though, they'll enter another two-week quarantine period pic.twitter.com/Bu2N26xsBM
— QuickTake by Bloomberg (@QuickTake) February 16, 2020
They boarded buses driven by personnel in head-to-toe protective suits and were told that the more than a dozen vehicles would travel in a convoy.
"I am happy and ready to go," Arana told AFP before leaving the ship. "We need a proper quarantine, this was not it."
The US government should have intervened "much sooner, at the beginning," the 52-year-old medical social worker said.
"This was too much for Japan, and they shouldnt have had to bear the burden," she added. "The people of Japan did not deserve this. I am full of gratitude."
As U.S. passengers prepared to evacuate, Japanese health officials said the number of confirmed coronavirus cases found on the Diamond Princess had grown to 355. “Cant get off here fast enough,” a medical social worker from California told reporters. https://t.co/5ahbU2EJ7l
— The New York Times (@nytimes) February 16, 2020
Declining to leave
But other Americans on board declined the evacuation, despite being warned they will still have to wait two weeks and test negative for the virus before being allowed back to the United States.
"My health is fine. And my two-week quarantine is almost over. Why would I want to be put on a bus and a plane with other people they think may be infected when I have spent nearly two weeks isolated from those people?" tweeted Matt Smith, an American lawyer on the ship with his wife.
He described a fellow American passenger standing on her balcony chanting "USA, USA" as buses arrived to collect them.
"Of course, in contravention of the rules of quarantine, shes not wearing a face mask, and shes talking with a passenger on the adjacent balcony… And you wanted me to get on a bus with her?"
Earlier Sunday, health minister Katsunobu Kato said 1,219 people on the ship had now been tested for the virus, with 355 diagnosed with the illness.
Japan has not been able to testRead More – Source