Two charter flights carrying American Diamond Princess cruise ship passengers landed at military bases in California and Texas overnight, starting the clock on a new 14-day quarantine period to ensure those passengers don’t have coronavirus.
Fourteen evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Japan were allowed to fly back to the United States Sunday despite testing positive for the virus, the U.S. State Department and Health and Human Services saidin a joint statement. They were not symptomatic.
Cheryl and Paul Molesky opted to trade the ship quarantine for one on U.S. soil.
Cheryl sent The Associated Press a video of her and her husband, Paul, boarding the plane with other Americans.
“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,” she said.
“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.”
Molesky also said she was worried about the rising number of patients on the ship.
“It’s a little bit scary with the numbers going up of the people being taken off the ship for the (virus), so I think its time to go. I think its time to cut our losses and take off,” she said.
Matthew Smith, a passenger aboard the ship, told USA TODAY he and his wife, Katherine, did not plan to take the charter flight back to the U.S. because they believed the “way they are handling this is not safe.” Sunday, he shared details of what it looked like for passengers as the evacuation began.
“(I’m) watching the ‘rescue’ with fascination,” the family law attorney from Sacramento, California, wrote in a series of messages to USA TODAY. “To have a front-row seat to an incident being followed world-wide is bizarre.”
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 U.S. that day and would be the “only opportunity for eligible passengers to fly to the United States until March 4, 2020, at the earliest.”
Smith said passengers were prompted to RSVP to the U.S. Embassy.
“The American medical personnel who stopped by our stateroom to ask us some questions seemed surprised that we were staying, but didn’t go beyond that,” Smith said. Personnel confirmed the couple was not on their list before advising someone through a radio that they would remain on board, he said.
For passengers who did opt to disembark, a “tented corridor with tables” was set up to process them through Japanese immigration. Guests boarded shuttles by their cruise deck, Smith said. “It appears the coaches will all depart together once they are filled.”
In total, approximately 380 Americans were on board the Diamond Princess ship for the duration of the cruise and quarantine at sea.
At least 40 Americans onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship tested positive for coronavirus, according to immunologist Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Fauci confirmed “40 of them have gotten infected.” It was not immediately clear whether the number was in addition to the 20 infected Americans previously reported or if it is a new total.
Japanese officials confirmed 99 more people were infected with coronavirus aboard the Diamond Princess, bringing the total to 454, the Health Ministry said Monday.
The Canadian Embassy in Tokyo has notified Princess Cruises that Canada will provide chartered aircraft to bring back all Canadians quarantined on the ship, the cruise line said in a statement provided to USA TODAY by Negin Kamali.
USA TODAY reached out to Diamond Princess for more information about the evacuation.
How US was evacuating Americans
The U.S. State Department coordinated with the Department of Health and Human Services, along with other agencies, to provide a charter aircraft to bring passengers back to the USA.
Americans were bused to the aircraft and screened for coronavirus before boarding.
All travelers returning from a “high risk area” will be required to complete a 14-day quarantine upon their return. Americans who choose not to return on the charter flight will be unable to return to the U.S. before next month, the U.S. Embassy’s letter said.
Last week, the cruise line announced that some passengers, starting with the medically vulnerable, would be let off the ship to complete the quarantine. The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said Friday that the first group of passengers disembarked in Yokahama, Japan, to complete their 14-day quarantine period for coronavirus off the ship.
Twelve people voluntarily disembarked, and 55 in the group that tested negative for coronavirus stayed on board, Princess Cruises said in a news release provided by spokesperson Negin Kamali.
The worldwide outbreak has infected more than 71,00 people and killed 1,775 worldwide as of Monday morning.
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.
Preliminary plans for the end of the Diamond Princess cruise ship’s quarantine came to light Saturday after the U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Japan announced the United States would evacuate American passengers. There were about 400 American passengers on board the Diamond Princess, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Princess Cruises ship’s required two-week quarantine is supposed to end Feb. 19. The company announced Sunday it would cancel additional cruises planned through April 20, “based on the prolonged quarantine period and the anticipated time to prepare the ship to return service.”
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Contributing: Curtis Tate, Jayme Deerwester, The Associated