Fourteen evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Japan were allowed to fly back to the USA Sunday despite testing positive for coronavirus, the U.S. State Department and Health and Human Services said in a joint statement. The evacuees were not symptomatic.
“These individuals were moved in the most expeditious and safe manner to a specialized containment area on the evacuation aircraft to isolate them in accordance with standard protocols,” the statement, published Sunday, read.
Two charter flights carrying the Diamond Princess passengers landed at military bases in California and Texas overnight, starting the clock on a 14-day quarantine period to ensure those passengers don’t have coronavirus. In total, approximately 380 Americans were on board the Diamond Princess ship for the duration of the cruise and quarantine at sea.
‘Something went awry’:Why did US break Diamond Princess coronavirus quarantine?
One plane carrying American passengers touched down at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California just before 11:30 p.m. Sunday local time. A second flight arrived at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas around 2½ hours later, early Monday.
Monday, The Omaha World-Herald and TV station KETV reported that two jets from Kalitta Air – the Michigan-based carrier chartered to bring the evacuees home from Japan – arrived at Omaha’s Eppley Airfield Monday around 7 a.m. local time. They were met by biohazard-suited personnel in vans from Nebraska Medicine and the University of Nebraska Medical Center, who drove them to a facility on campus that can accommodate up to 20 quarantined patients in negative-pressure rooms where contaminated air cannot escape.
Representatives for the medical center told news outlets they were aware of the efforts to rescue U.S. citizens from the Diamond Princess but could not comment on their involvement while the situation was unfolding and said more details would follow in a news conference at 1 p.m. EST.
Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said an infected person who shows minimal symptoms could pass the virus to someone else. He said at least 40 Americans on board the cruise ship tested positive for coronavirus. It was not immediately clear whether the number was in addition to the 20 infected Americans previously reported or if it was a new total.
USA TODAY reached out to Princess Cruises for clarification on how many Americans from the ship have the virus.
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In a letter sent Sunday morning to American passengers and crew members, the U.S. Embassy in Japan announced flights would depart Yokohama to the USA that day and would be the “only opportunity for eligible passengers to fly to the United States until March 4, 2020, at the earliest.”
Last week, the cruise line announced that some passengers, starting with the medically vulnerable, would be let off the ship to complete the quarantine onshore. The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said Friday that the first group of passengers disembarked in Yokahama.
The Princess Cruises ship was carrying 2,666 guests and 1,045 crew when it set sail and was quarantined after 10 cases of coronavirus were reported Feb. 4.
Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono tweeted that Japanese troops helped transport U.S. passengers on buses from the port in Yokohama to Tokyo’s Haneda airport.
Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and Italy planned similar flights of passengers. Other governments will require the passengers to undergo a second 14-day quarantine.
Monday, Japan announced an additional 99 infections on the Diamond Princess, raising the ship’s total number of cases to 454. In the USA, there have been 15 confirmed cases. One U.S. citizen died in China on Feb 5.
Holland America said 255 passengers and 747 crew members remained on the MS Westerdam, which docked in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, Friday, after being turned away from ports in Japan, Thailand and Guam. One female American passenger tested positive for coronavirus at a Malaysian hospital over the weekend. She remains stable, and her travel companion tested negative, the cruise line said.
In a statement provided by spokesman Buck Banks, the cruise line said Cambodian health officials tested those on board Monday, a process expected to last several more days.
“Guests at a hotel in Phnom Penh have all completed the COVID-19 screening,” the cruise line said. “Results are being returned when completed, with the first batch of 406 all being negative. Cleared guests may travel home, and arrangements are being made for those guests. Guests in both locations are being very well cared for, including assisting with any medications needed.”
Contributing: Julia Thompson and Morgan Hines, USA TODAY; The Associated Press