Cargo planes from Japan carrying 340 American cruise passengers – including 14 infected travelling in in-flight ISOLATION chambers – land in Texas and California to face 14 MORE days of quarantine
- Two planes carrying 340 Americans have arrived back in the U.S. after they were evacuated from the coronavirus quarantine aboard the Diamond Princess in Japan
- The first plane touched down at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California just before 11.30pm on Sunday local time, before the second plane arrived at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas a few hours later
- Fourteen U.S. evacuees had to be placed in special isolation chambers for the duration of the flights after it emerged they had been infected with coronvirus in the lead up to the evacuation
- As the evacuees were being taken to the airport in Tokyo, results from tests carried out two to three days earlier came back and showed the 14 passengers had the infection
- Despite the U.S. earlier saying no infected passenger would be allowed to leave, those who tested positive were still allowed to board the planes because they did not have symptoms
- The U.S. said it arranged the evacuation because people on the Diamond Princess were at a high risk of exposure to the virus given about 400 passengers have tested positive during a two-week quarantine
- After arriving in the U.S., all of the evacuees must go through another 14 days of quarantine at the American military facilities
- The cruise ship, by far the largest cluster of coronavirus cases outside China, has become the biggest test so far of other countries’ ability to contain an outbreak that has killed 1,770 people in China and five elsewhere
Two planes evacuating 340 American cruise ship passengers from coronavirus quarantine on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan have now landed back in the U.S. after 14 evacuees were placed in isolation chambers when officials realized they had tested positive for the deadly virus.
The first 747 plane touched down at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California just before 11.30pm on Sunday local time, before the second plane arrived at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas a few hours later.
Fourteen U.S. evacuees had to be placed in special isolation chambers for the duration of the flights after it emerged they had been infected with coronvirus in the lead up to the evacuation.
The passengers had all been deemed ‘fit to fly’ and were not showing symptoms before disembarking from the cruise ship. As the evacuees were being taken to the airport in Tokyo, results from tests carried out two to three days earlier came back and showed the 14 passengers had the infection.
Despite the U.S. earlier saying no infected passenger would be allowed to leave, those who tested positive were still allowed to board the planes because they did not have symptoms. The State Department said they were being isolated separately from other passengers on the flights.
The U.S. said it arranged the evacuation because people on the Diamond Princess were at a high risk of exposure to the virus given more than 400 passengers have tested positive since the cruise liner was ordered to stay under quarantine on February 4.
After arriving in the U.S., all of the passengers must go through another 14 days of quarantine at the military facilities – meaning they will have been under quarantine for a total of nearly four weeks. The infected passengers will be taken to an isolated facility.
The cruise ship Diamond Princess, by far the largest cluster of coronavirus cases outside China, has become the biggest test so far of other countries’ ability to contain an outbreak that has killed 1,770 people in China and five elsewhere.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said Sunday that an infected person who shows minimal symptoms could still pass the virus to someone else.
It came as Japanese officials confirmed 99 additional people had been infected by the virus aboard the quarantined cruise ship, bringing the total to 454. At least 62 Americans are among those infected but it is unclear if that figure includes the 14 who were evacuated.
The United States was the first country to evacuate its passengers from the ship. Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and Italy were planning similar flights of passengers.
More than 71,000 people have now been infected with the virus worldwide, while 1,775 people have died from it. Overall, Japan has 419 confirmed cases of the virus, including one death. The United States has confirmed 15 cases within the country. Separately, one U.S. citizen died in China.
U.S. authorities had announced on Saturday that they would offer the 380 Americans on board the option to leave the ship. The evacuation was not mandatory but the Americans who chose not to leave the ship were warned they wouldn’t be allowed to return to the U.S. ‘for a period of time’ that will be determined later by the Centres for Disease Control.
Those who arrived at Travis Air Force Base in California have been told they will be quarantined at the Westwind Inn on the base, which is the same place where those evacuated from Wuhan are being held. They will be kept in a separate part of the building to those who are already in quarantine.
The Americans who did evacuate the ship said they were frustrated about the additional two-week quarantine in the U.S. because they believed they would be able to walk free from the Diamond Princess when the ship’s quarantine is scheduled to be lifted on Wednesday.
‘It’s like a prison sentence for something I did not do,’ passenger Karey Mansicalco told CNN from her cabin. ‘They are holding us hostage for absolutely no reason.’
‘On cargo plane. You cannot Imagine. Crazy or worst dream ever,’ American evacuee Gay Courter wrote on Facebook after boarding one of the flights at Tokyo International Airport.
Her husband Philip added: ‘Huge windowless B-747 cargo plane with some seats bolted in. Destination unknown at this time.’
Americans Cheryl and Paul Molesky, a couple from Syracuse, New York, opted to trade one coronavirus quarantine for another, leaving the cruise ship to fly back to the U.S. Cheryl Molesky said the rising number of patients on the ship factored into the decision.
‘We are glad to be going home,’ Cheryl Molesky earlier told NHK TV in Japan. ‘It’s just a little bit disappointing that we´ll have to go through quarantine again, and we will probably not be as comfortable as the Diamond Princess, possibly.’
When they eventually boarded the plane with other Americans, Cheryl said: ‘Well, we’re exhausted, but we’re on the plane and that’s a good feeling. Pretty miserable wearing these masks though, and everybody had to go to the bathroom on the bus.’
Other Americans on board the cruise ship declined to evacuate the Diamond Princess, 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.
They feared being on a long flight with other passengers who may be infected or in an incubation period.
‘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?’ Matt Smith, an American lawyer on the ship with his wife, tweeted.
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, she’s not wearing a face mask and she’s talking with a passenger on the adjacent balcony… And you wanted me to get on a bus with her?’
He said American officials in hazmat suits and face masks had visited his room to check if he would disembark but he said he wanted to stay.
Later, when Smith had learned 14 infected passengers were still allowed to board the flights, he tweeted: ‘OMG! US Gov’t said they would not put anyone on the planes who was symptomatic, and they ended up knowingly and intentionally putting on 14 people who actually have the virus. Decision not to be evacuated = best decision ever!’
Japanese authorities, dressed in head-to-toe protective suits, helped transport the Americans to the airport in Tokyo on a convoy of 14 buses.
American Sarah Arana, a 52-year-old medical social worker, said there were no health checks when they passed through a makeshift passport control.
She said the U.S. government should have acted ‘much sooner, at the beginning’.
‘I am happy and ready to go,’ Arana told AFP before leaving the ship. ‘We need a proper quarantine. This was not it.’
Across mainland China, officials said the total number of coronavirus cases rose by 2,048 to 70,548. That was slightly more new cases than were reported on Sunday, but hundreds fewer than reported on Saturday.
Chinese authorities say the stabilisation in the number of new cases is a sign that measures they have taken to halt the spread of the disease are having an effect.
However, epidemiologists say it is probably still too early to say how well the outbreak is being contained within China and its central Hubei province, where the virus first appeared.
China has responded to the COVID-19 virus by effectively locking down Hubei’s provincial capital Wuhan, a megacity of 11 million people.
Concerns remain about the global transmission, especially on cruise ships which appear to have become especially virulent breeding grounds.
Fears are growing for passengers on the Westerdam cruise ship, who all received a clean bill of health when they disembarked in Cambodia – a staunch ally of Beijing.
An 83-year-old American woman was stopped by authorities in Malaysia over the weekend when she was detected with a fever and later diagnosed with the virus.
There were more than 2,200 passengers and crew on the ship when it docked in Sihanoukville, many of whom have now dispersed around the globe.
With tourism battered and global supply chains disrupted by the virus, experts are fretting about the toll it could take on a fragile global economy.
IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva said there could be a cut of around 0.1-0.2 percentage points to global growth but stressed there was ‘still a great deal of uncertainty.’
Japan, one of the hardest-hit countries outside China irrespective of the Diamond Princess, suffered its biggest economic slump in more than five years – even before the coronavirus crisis. Gross domestic product in the world’s third-top economy shrank an eye-watering 1.6 percent in the three months to December – a much bigger contraction than economists had feared.
It comes after Chinese scientists revealed the deadly virus may have started life in a research facility just 300 yards from the Wuhan fish market.
A new bombshell paper from the Beijing-sponsored South China University of Technology says that the Wuhan Center for Disease Control (WHCDC) could have spawned the contagion in Hubei province.
‘The possible origins of 2019-nCoV coronavirus,’ penned by scholars Botao Xiao and Lei Xiao claims the WHCDC kept disease-ridden animals in laboratories, including 605 bats.
It also mentions that bats – which are linked to coronavirus – once attacked a researcher and ‘blood of bat was on his skin.’
The report says: ‘Genome sequences from patients were 96% or 89% identical to the Bat CoV ZC45 coronavirus originally found in Rhinolophus affinis (intermediate horseshoe bat).’