Forty Americans are among hundreds infected with the new coronavirus on a cruise ship quarantined off Japan, a US official said on Sunday, after other Americans on board left for chartered flights home.
Diamond Princess cruise ship (Photo: AFP)
The evacuation coincided with stepped-up warnings from Japanese authorities over the deadly outbreak, urging citizens to avoid crowds and "non-essential gatherings."
The Diamond Princess was placed in a 14-day quarantine in early February after a former passenger tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.
But US authorities announced on the weekend they would offer American passengers the option to leave and fly home, where they will face another 14-day isolation period. Several other governments also have announced plans to remove their citizens from the ship.
More than three dozen Americans are not going home, however, Anthony Fauci, a senior official at the National Institutes for Health, said on CBS.
"Forty of them have gotten infected," Fauci said. "They're going to be in hospitals in Japan."
It was not immediately clear whether the 40 Americans were among the figure of 355 people from the ship which Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato earlier Sunday said were infected.
He said that 1,219 people on the vessel had been tested.
Late Sunday and into the early hours of Monday, Americans who opted to leave were brought off the ship in groups. They passed through a makeshift passport control but underwent no health checks, American passenger Sarah Arana told AFP.
They boarded buses driven by personnel in head-to-toe protective suits and were told that the more than a dozen vehicles would travel in a convoy.
"I am happy and ready to go," Arana told AFP before leaving the ship. "We need a proper quarantine. This was not it."
The US government should have intervened "much sooner, at the beginning," the 52-year-old medical social worker said.
"This was too much for Japan, and they shouldn't have had to bear the burden," she added. "The people of Japan did not deserve this. I am full of gratitude."
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Saturday that 400 Americans would be flown home.