Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. has ordered the immediate repatriation of Filipinos aboard the quarantined M/V Diamond Princess cruise liner, where 41 of them have already tested positive for the deadly new coronavirus (COVID-19).
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, however, said some 100 of the 531 Filipino crew members on the ship, which has been quarantined and docked at Yokohama, Japan since Feb. 4, have declined repatriation, saying they fear they would lose their jobs.
“More than 100 Filipinos want to stay; they refused to be repatriated. We will respect their decision,” Duque said.
The ship has the highest concentration of COVID-19 infections outside of China.
On his Twitter account, Locsin said he ordered the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo to immediately work for the return of the Filipinos onboard the cruise ship.
“It’s our duty to take care our overseas Filipinos wherever they are. I want them home now!” Locsin said on his Twitter account.
A total of 41 Filipinos aboard the cruise ship have tested positive of COVID-19 and are being treated at Japanese hospitals.
The government earlier repatriated 30 Filipinos from the Chinese province of Hubei, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak.
They, along with two consulate staff, have been in quarantine at the New Clark City Athletes’ Village in Capas, Tarlac.
In a briefing Wednesday, Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said six more Filipinos on the ship tested positive for COVID-19.
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“All Filipino passengers and crew of the MV Diamond Princess who will request repatriation will be accommodated by the Philippine government in accordance with the guidelines set by the Department of Health,” Vergeire said.
The Philippine Embassy in Tokyo said the Japanese government and the Diamond Princess management are finalizing repatriation details and schedule as the quarantine on the ship ended Wednesday.
Upon arrival in the Philippines, the evacuees will be required to undergo another 14-day quarantine as a precaution, Duque said. There are a total of 538 Filipinos on the Diamond Princess, seven of whom are passengers.
Duque said all of the repatriates would be checked for symptoms of COVID-19 before boarding the chartered plane for the Philippines.
“Definitely, those with signs will not be allowed to board the plane,” Duque said.
The Diamond Princess, operated by Carnival Corp., has been quarantined in the port of Yokohama since Feb. 4 after a passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong before traveling to Japan, was diagnosed with the virus that has already killed over 2,000 in China, mostly in Hubei province.
Hundreds of relieved passengers finally disembarked a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship in Japan Wednesday after testing negative for the disease that has now claimed more than 2,000 lives in China and spread panic worldwide.
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With 542 positive cases, the Diamond Princess is easily the biggest cluster outside China, and Japan has faced mounting criticism for its quarantine arrangements as the passengers disperse into the wider world.
“I’m relieved... I want to take a good rest,” said a 77-year-old Japanese passenger, who declined to give his name. He said he would be boarding Japan’s famously crowded railway system home.
A fleet of yellow-dotted city buses, plus a dozen or so taxis, whisked away the passengers, many of whom dragged their luggage behind them and waved to former ship-mates on balconies as they disembarked.
For the 500 passengers disembarking the Diamond Princess after testing negative, a difficult 14-day quarantine period has come to an end after their dream cruise turned into a nightmare of fear and boredom confined in many cases to small windowless cabins.
Many were left onboard with an anxious wait for test results that would allow them to disembark.
Asked how he felt seeing others disembark while remaining on the ship, American lawyer Matt Smith said: “I need an emoji for envy.”
Kentaro Iwata, a professor at the infectious diseases division of Kobe University, blasted the on-ship quarantine as a “major failure, a mistake.”
“It is highly likely secondary infections occurred,” Iwata said, saying skepticism from abroad of the quarantine was “only natural.”
He later said in a video published online that he was self-quarantining after a brief visit to the ship where he raised major concerns about the procedures on board.
READ: China spins Covid-19 story
Elated passengers also began disembarking from a second cruise ship that has been at the center of coronavirus fear, the Westerdam, which made shore in Sihanoukville in Cambodia.
Hundreds were departing after receiving a clean bill of health, as Prime Minister Hun Sen greeted the first passengers with hugs and flowers.
American Christina Kirby, fretted about the stigma some Westerdam passengers could face once they return home. “I want people to remember that... there’s a human behind each of these stories and those who are ill deserve compassion,” she said.
Several countries appear to have lost patience with the quarantine on board the Diamond Princess and chartered planes to repatriate citizens.
In the first such evacuation Monday, more than 300 Americans flew home even though 14 had tested positive.
Britain, Hong Kong and Australia are among other countries that have vowed to repatriate people from the ship but will insist on a further 14-day quarantine on home soil.
Nathalie MacDermott, a medical expert at King’s College London, recommended a further 14-day self quarantine for those leaving.
“Given the circumstances on board the Diamond Princess, those passengers leaving the boat should be managed in a similar manner to those individuals departing a highly affected city or region,” said MacDermott.
READ: China arrests an activist who criticized Xi over coronavirus
South Korea vowed to block foreigners who have been on board the Diamond Princess from entering the country.
Disembarkation is expected to take around three days as more test results become available. The crew will begin a new quarantine when the last passenger has left.
Japan faced mounting criticism for its handling of a coronavirus-afflicted cruise ship, with questions over a patchy quarantine, incremental testing and the decision to let people walk away after 14 days. With AFP
The 3,711 people on the Diamond Princess went into quarantine off Japan on after it emerged that a former passenger had tested positive for the new coronavirus.
Passengers were confined to cabins except for brief outings on deck when they were required to wear masks and gloves and keep their distance from each other.
But doubts soon emerged about whether the measures were working. Dozens of people on board were quickly diagnosed with the virus, and by Tuesday, 542 cases were reported.
While passengers were confined to their cabins, those with balconies could sometimes be seen talking to neighbors without masks.
And crew were not quarantined, sharing working spaces, living quarters and bathrooms, and simply donning masks and gloves when interacting with passengers.
At least two government officials themselves contracted the virus while working on the ship.
But Japanese officials defended their approach, with Shigeru Omi, a former WHO regional head advising the government, saying the quarantine had “a very positive effect” on reducing infections.
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