U.S. officials say American passengers aboard a quarantined cruise ship in Japan will be evacuated and flown back home Sunday night (local time), but will face another 14 days of quarantine.
In a statement released by the U.S. Embassy Tokyo, Diamond Princess cruise ship passengers will be screened for coronavirus symptoms before boarding a chartered airplane scheduled to transport the passengers to the Travis Air Force Base in California. From there, some passengers will be transported to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
About 380 Americans are aboard the Diamond Princess, currently docked at Yokohama. All passengers have been quarantined on the ship since February 5th, according to AP News.
So far, 285 people from the ship have tested positive for coronavirus, which is believed to have originated from Wuhan, China.
Officials said in a statement, "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. We appreciate your understanding and cooperation and will provide all the assistance we can to support the quarantine process."
Officials are urging American passengers to return home.
"Should you choose not to return on this charter flight, you will be unable to return to the United States for a period of time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make a final determination on this matter," the department said in a statement.
On Monday, KSBY News spoke with Paso Robles resident Sarah Arana, who is quarantined on the ship. Arana tells us she does not have coronavirus.
She told our news team that she was not allowed to leave her room under the quarantine aside from going out on her deck. She says she is extremely excited to get off the ship.
"I have nothing but praise and respect for the Japanese government for the huge amount of time and resources required to care for us during this time. I also understand the additional quarantine time in an effort to prevent the spread of this virus. If even one life is saved as a result, it’s time well spent. It is my civic responsibility to my country and to my community," Arana said in a Facebook post.
We spoke with her about returning back to the states and she said she will be flying back to California, but will be unable to return to the Central Coast until after the 14-day quarantine.
"In addition I want to send my sincerest gratitude to the State Dept and the US Embassy for working diligently with Japanese officials to secure our release and provide safe passage back home. I literally cannot stop crying. I’m coming home," said Arana.
Other American passengers, like Matthew Smith, aren't so enthusiastic about staying another two weeks in quarantine.
Smith, who has been tweeting aboard the ship, including photos of the food passengers have been given, expressed disappointment at what he called “a monkey wrench” the American government was throwing into the quarantine aboard the ship.
Incredibly disappointed that the U.S. Government has decided to throw a monkey wrench into the quarantine we have maintained here on board the Diamond Princess. If we stay on board through next week, we will be tested and will likely come up negative. But the U.S. Government
— Matthew Smith (@mjswhitebread) February 15, 2020
Smith complained about having to begin a new 14-day quarantine even though he was due to get off the ship next week.
"OK, so here's the thing: As long as the official plan by Japanese health officials is to release those of us who are still healthy from quarantine in just under four days, why would I want to interfere with that by taking up an offer from U.S. officials to fly us back to Travis?" he said on Twitter.
American passengers won't be the only ones facing a second quarantine, however. Hong Kong's government announced Saturday that it was arranging to bring back residents aboard the ship as soon as possible on a chartered flight, and that they will need to stay at a quarantine center for two weeks upon arrival.
Japan's Health Ministry allowed 11 passengers to disembark Friday, saying that those over 80 years old or with underlying medical conditions, as well as those staying in windowless cabins during the 14-day quarantine, can stay at a designated facility on shore.
Separately, the Japanese government said Saturday that a chartered flight to bring Japanese out of Wuhan - the Chinese city at the center of the outbreak of the virus - will leave Sunday and return Monday. That would be the fifth such plane for Japan.
Besides the cases on the cruise ship, Japan has reported 55 other cases of coronavirus. Three new cases were reported Saturday in Wakayama Prefecture in central Japan, and eight were reported in Tokyo.
*Some information was contributed by the Associated Press.