US to evacuate Americans from quarantined ship in Japan: embassy

AYOKOHAMA, Japan — The United States will evacuate Americans from the cruise ship that has been quarantined for more than a week in Japan because of coronavirus infections on board, the United States Embassy in Tokyo told Americans aboard the ship on Saturday.

A chartered flight will arrive on Sunday for those who want to return to the United States, according to a letter from the embassy emailed to American passengers and crew members. Hundreds of Americans are on the ship.

“We recognize this has been a stressful experience, and we remain dedicated to providing all the support we can and seeing you safely and expeditiously reunited with family and friends in the United States,” the letter read.

Buses will move Americans and their belongings from the ship to the chartered plane, and the evacuees will be screened for symptoms before boarding, the letter read. The plane will land at Travis Air Force Base in California. Some passengers will then continue onward to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

Symptomatic Americans who cannot board the flight will remain in Japan for care, according to the letter. At least 40 Americans have already been taken off the ship after being infected with the virus.

The evacuated Americans will then have to undergo two weeks of additional quarantine in the United States. “We understand this is frustrating and an adjustment, but these measures are consistent with the careful policies we have instituted to limit the potential spread of the disease,” the letter read.

It said that those who chose not to take the flight would be “unable to return to the United States for a period of time,” though it did not specify how long; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would decide the timeline.

The Americans were asked to notify the embassy if they wanted to travel with immediate family members who were not American citizens.

The Wall Street Journal first reported that the government was preparing to evacuate Americans.

The ship, the Diamond Princess, was placed under quarantine at the city of Yokohama early last week, with about 3,700 passengers and crew members aboard, after the coronavirus was diagnosed in a man who had disembarked in Hong Kong. Since then, at least 218 new cases have been confirmed aboard the ship.

Many passengers have expressed fear that the quarantine, meant to protect Japan and keep the virus from spreading, was putting them at risk. Experts have said that infections could have spread aboard the ship despite measures taken to isolate people.

Japan has more confirmed coronavirus cases — the vast majority from the Diamond Princess — than any country outside China, where the outbreak began, and it reported its first death from the virus on Thursday.

On Friday, the Japanese government said an official who had helped transfer infected patients from the cruise ship had tested positive for the virus. A Health Ministry official who had been tending to passengers on board also tested positive.

At a news briefing on Friday, an official with the C.D.C., Dr. Nancy Messonnier, said officials were discussing a plan to ensure the Americans’ safety.

“It’s really important to all of us that these people are safe and taken well care of,” Dr. Messonnier said. “We are also concerned that the data coming out of Japan suggests there’s a higher risk among the people on the ship, and therefore their safety is of utmost importance.”

On Saturday, before the embassy announced the evacuation plan, Americans were waiting anxiously for confirmation of news reports about it. One said the ship felt like a “pressure cooker.”

Sarah Arana, a medical social worker from Paso Robles, Calif., said Americans were particularly worried about the extra quarantine period in the United States. “If you add two weeks and we have to miss work, what does that mean for us?” she asked.

But Ms. Arana, a grandmother of two, said she was prepared to submit to it, out of concern that the virus had spread on the ship since the quarantine was imposed.

“If we can prevent this from spreading any further, then I am OK and I will go sit in a military base for two weeks so I don’t become a superspreader,” she said. “I feel like I have some civic responsibility.”

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