Over 400 Filipinos from the MV Diamond Princess were expected to arrive in the country Tuesday night, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said as two flights bringing them home left Manila for Haneda Airport on the same day.
The first chartered plane departed from the Ninoy Aquino International Airport at around 10:30 while the second one left at about 12:20 p.m.
“Both flights will be bringing home a total of over 400 Filipinos from Haneda Airport tonight,” the DFA said in a statement Tuesday.
“The first batch of MV Diamond Princess repatriates are expected to arrive in Clark sometime before 9 p.m... The second batch is expected to arrive sometime before midnight,” the DFA said in a series of posts on its Twitter account.
Officials from the Philippine Embassy in Tokyo and the Department of Health were at the Yokohama Port for the disembarkation of the more than 400 Filipino crew members aboard the ship.
DFA Undersecretary Brigido Dulay said the number of Filipinos infected with coronavirus disease 2019(COVID-19) from the cruise ship spiked to 80.
Meanwhile, at least 10 have recovered from the disease and have since been discharged from hospitals around Tokyo.
“(The) remaining Filipino crew for repatriation today have all tested negative,” Dulay said.
Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, meanwhile, said the Inter-agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases will meet Wednesday to discuss a possible travel ban on South Korea, where COVID-19 cases are rising.
The DFA had earlier urged Filipinos to forego travel plans to South Korea.
Authorities reported Tuesday a fourth person has died after becoming ill aboard the Diamond Princess.
Nearly 700 people on board the Diamond Princess, which spent two weeks quarantined off Japan, have so far tested positive for the virus.
Four people who were hospitalized after being taken off the ship have died, the latest a man in his 80s, according to local media.
The Yomiuri Shimbun daily said the man had tested positive for the new coronavirus and died of pneumonia. The health ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the reports.
Three others, all Japanese, have so far died after becoming sick on the ship. Two were confirmed to have the new coronavirus, while the health ministry declined to comment on the diagnosis of the third.
Japan has come under increasing pressure over its handling of the ship, particularly after it emerged that some passengers allowed to disembark after testing negative were subsequently diagnosed with the virus.
Some of the disembarking passengers were not even tested during the quarantine period, the health ministry has acknowledged.
Several government officials working on the ship have themselves contracted the infection, but authorities have defended a policy of not uniformly testing those working on the boat.
“We are aware of the risks of them getting infected when they take off a mask or gloves, so we will have thorough measures to prevent infections under these circumstances,” Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said, while stressing no change in policy was planned.
Many nations have evacuated their citizens from the ship, with 450 Filipinos due to be flown home on Tuesday on two chartered flights. Another 80 who have tested positive for the virus will stay in Japan.
As the situation on the ship has come under scrutiny, infections have spiked inside Japan, with 156 cases including one death.
“As we see patients whose infection routes are not clear in several regions in Japan, now is a crucial phase to prevent the spread of infection from happening on a huge scale,” government spokesman Yoshihide Suga told reporters on Tuesday.
“It is important that we contain the spread in Japan by slowing the speed of the increase of new patients as much as possible,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a cabinet meeting on the outbreak.
“To this end, we shall thoroughly strengthen measures against patient clusters.”
The government is expected to take measures including expanding the number of hospitals that can receive suspected patients, as well as asking people with moderate symptoms to stay at home.
The health minister has already urged people to avoid crowds and unnecessary gatherings, and the government has called for businesses to encourage teleworking and off-peak commuting.READ: COVID-19 deaths exceed 2,000; virus hits 74,000 in 25 nationsREAD: ‘Tourist arrivals down due to COVID-19 outbreak’READ: Nations take drastic steps to rim spread
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