The scheduled repatriation of 497 Filipinos
onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship
in Japan today has been postponed, the Department of Health said Saturday.
The DOH said in a statement the postponement to early next week was taken as a precautionary measure to ensure the health and safety of the Filipinos onboard, with 19 the first number to have tested positive and which has now risen by 30 to 49.
The DOH said: “[The task force] is adjusting the schedule out of an abundance of caution with a view of safeguarding the health and safety of our OFs (overseas Filipinos) onboard. Our Tokyo Embassy is working closely with the Japanese health and foreign ministry to complete the quarantine protocols for the Philippine Government to repatriate our Filipino crew members as soon as possible.”
As this developed, all Filipinos repatriated from Wuhan—the epicenter
of the COVID-19 outbreak
in China—have completed the 14-day quarantine period at the Athlete’s Village at New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac.
“All 30 repatriates from Wuhan received a clean bill of health and were cleared by the Department of Health to leave the New Clark City quarantine facility today,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said.
Aside from the repatriates, the 10-member Health Emergency Response Team, six flight crew members and three ground crew operators involved in the repatriation also completed the quarantine period without exhibiting any signs of symptoms of the new coronavirus.
Malacañang, for its part, said future repatriation efforts will be even more seamless as it commended the team that brought back the first batch of repatriates from Wuhan.
“The Office of the President is confident that the succeeding repatriation efforts will be seamless and will have a similar outcome as we assure that the safety of Filipinos here and abroad remains to be the paramount concern of the government,” Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
However, families of hundreds of Filipino crew members still stuck on board the coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship are increasingly worried about their relatives’ health.
The vessel, moored off the Japanese coast in Yokohama near Tokyo, has the biggest cluster of coronavirus infections outside Wuhan, with over 600 cases confirmed among the 3,700 passengers and crew.
While hundreds of travelers have disembarked, more than 1,000 crew remain—including the Filipinos whose return today (Sunday) has been delayed until Japan clears them to travel.
Norma Fajardo, whose daughter is part of the Diamond Princess security team, said the crew have been well treated and cared for, but she is worried her work makes her particularly vulnerable to the virus.
“We couldn’t do anything because she works in security so she has to monitor passengers,” Fajardo told AFP.
“We’re worried. She could get infected anytime,” she added.
Fajardo said crew who get sick are allowed to rest, but those without symptoms were encouraged to continue working.
Esther Rivera—whose son is a ship photographer—has urged the government to bring them home.
“I hope they get pulled out from the ship because they are infecting each other there,” Rivera said.
Once flown home, the repatriated Filipinos will be quarantined for two weeks at the Athlete’s Village.
The announced postponement of the repatriation coincided with reports London had begun bringing home its citizens from the cruise ship.
“We can confirm the evacuation flight from Japan has now departed with 32 British and European passengers on board, as well as British government and medical staff. It is due to arrive in the UK on Saturday morning,” the Foreign Office said in a statement.
The plane will land at Boscombe Down military base in southern England and passengers will be placed in a further 14-day quarantine.
The Diamond Princess cruise ship was quarantined on Feb. 5 when a passenger who left in Hong Kong was found infected with the virus.
Passengers were confined to cabins except for brief trips on deck wearing masks and gloves when they were told to keep their distance from others.
Hundreds of passengers have since been allowed to disembark this week after testing negative for the deadly virus.
The United States, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong, and South Korea have all said they will evacuate their citizens from the boat.
Tokyo has faced criticism for its handling of the situation, with dozens of new infections detected almost daily since the ship arrived.
In a related development, a senior US official said Americans should avoid traveling by cruise liner within Asia because the vessels act as amplifiers of the novel coronavirus, adding that future evacuations of ship passengers were not guaranteed.
READ: US citizens flee cruise ship; others may follow suit
The warning came as the number of confirmed cases of people on US soil who have been infected with the pathogen rose to 34, of which 21 were repatriated from abroad.
More than 300 Americans were flown back from the Diamond Princess cruise ship off the Japanese coast earlier this week, and there have also been several flights bringing home citizens from Wuhan.
Ian Brownlee, a senior State Department official, said in a briefing that the government had “advised all US citizens to reconsider travel by cruise ship to, or within Asia.”
“While the US government has successfully evacuated hundreds of hundreds of our citizens in recent weeks, such repatriation flights do not reflect our standard practice and should not be relied upon as an option for US citizens under potential risk of quarantine by local authorities,” he added.
The outbreak has already killed more than 2,200 people
and infected more than 75,500
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