Approximately 500 Filipinos will fly back to the Philippines from the quarantined cruise ship in Japan, officials told reporters on Thursday.
The Diamond Princess, docked in Yokohama, was largely staffed by Filipinos. In addition to the 531 crew members on board, seven passengers are citizens from the Philippines. Forty-four Filipinos on the ship have tested positive for the new coronavirus, or COVID-19.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III told reporters that the 500 or so Filipinos returning home will be screened before disembarking from the ship and, after arriving in the Philippines, will be quarantined in New Clark City, CNN Philippines reported. Medical workers will consist of personnel from hospitals in Luzon.
Magsaysay Maritime Corp, which arranged for the Filipino crew members to work on the Diamond Princess, will be paying for the costs of the quarantine, Duque said.
The repatriation was originally slated for Feb. 25 but was moved to Feb. 23 after Japanese authorities said they plan on shutting down the cruise ship, Dugque told reporters.
The exact time has yet to be determined but the process will involve two planes flying the Filipinos to the Clark Air Base, from which they’ll be taken to the Athletes’ Village in New Clark City in Tarlac, Rappler reported. The evacuees will have to stay in quarantine there for two weeks, which is widely being treated as the edge of the incubation period of the new virus.
Another group is already at the village, having arrived from Hubei Province in China. The new virus emerged in Wuhan, situated in the province, in December 2019.
Most people staying at the village will get their own room but family members will be asked to live in one room together, Duque said. An infected Filipino who recovered from the virus will also be required to undergo quarantine.
“Oh yes, he has to be quarantined. Because number one, we don’t know much of the virus. We don’t know if there’s going to be immunity or if there’s going to be re-infection,” Duque said.
Hundreds of passengers from the Diamond Princess were allowed to leave on Wednesday after testing negative for the virus but Japanese officials also reported the first deaths among those on board. The patients were both Japanese and in their 80s.
Several hundred other guests were expected to be cleared Thursday, Princess Cruises, which operates the ship, said in a statement.
Of the crew and passengers, 634 have tested positive, with many showing no symptoms and others displaying only mild symptoms.
The Philippines’ planned repatriation follows evacuations carried out by the United States, Australia, and Hong Kong. Canada planned a flight to carry back its citizens on Friday and England said it’s working on arranging for a flight.
Elsewhere in Japan, 73 cases have been confirmed, the second-highest number outside of China behind Singapore, which has reported 81 cases, according to the World Health Organization. South Korea has reported 51, Thailand has confirmed 35, and Malaysia has confirmed 22, including an American woman who flew into the country after leaving a cruise ship in Cambodia.
Travel restrictions were put in place after the woman tested positive over the weekend while the passengers who were in Cambodia were tested. The 781 remaining passengers tested negative, officials said. The 747 crew members remain on board the Westerdam, also owned by Carnival Corp., until testing is complete on them.