Britons stuck on board quarantined ship Diamond Princess in Japan are set to be flown home, the Foreign Office confirmed today.
The development came as Princess Cruises revealed 169 new cases of the coronavirus on board the ship in the past 48 hours. The previous reported total was 451 infected.
More than 70 British passengers and crew are on board the ship which was placed under quarantine in the port of Yokohama for 14 days on February 3.
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A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “Given the conditions on board, we are working to organise a flight back to the UK for British nationals on the Diamond Princess as soon as possible.
“Our staff are contacting British nationals on board to make the necessary arrangements. We urge all those who have not yet responded to get in touch immediately.”
A hotel near Heathrow has been requisitioned as a potential quarantine centre for suspected coronavirus cases.
Virgin Atlantic founder Sir Richard Branson tweeted following an appeal by British passengers David and Sally Abel: “@VirginAtlantic does not fly to Japan, but we are in discussions with the UK government and seeing of there is anything we can do to help.”
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) February 16, 2020
The couple later confirmed that they had been tested as positive for coronavirus and were being transferred off the ship.
The US and Canadian governments have chartered aircraft to fly people home from the ship, with Australia and Hong Kong also organising flights.
Princess Cruises has flown in more than 30 staff to support passengers and crew who have been admitted to hospital locally, according to a video message by executive vice president Rai Caluori.
A spokesperson for the line said: “Princess Cruises confirms announcements, made by the Japanese Ministry of Health, over the past 48 hours, that include a total of 169 new positive cases of COVID-19 [coronavirus] on board Diamond Princess. Nationality information for these new cases is still being verified.
“We continue to follow guidance from the Japanese Ministry of Health on plans for disembarkation protocols to provide medical care for these new cases.
“Princess Cruises can also confirm the government of Canada and the government of Australia are also planning to repatriate its citizens and permanent residents via chartered aircraft.
“For our guests and crew on board, Princess Cruises has engaged and partnered with World Central Kitchen (WCK), a non-profit organisation founded by chef José Andrés, which uses the power of food to heal and strengthen communities in times of crisis and beyond.
“Starting with lunch today, we will be integrating WCK meals into our food service options. Meals will continue to include breakfast, lunch and dinner, which will be delivered to staterooms accommodating all dietary requirements.”
Meanwhile, Princess Cruises has cancelled and modified more sailings by Sapphire Princess due to the uncertainty over travel restrictions and port closures in Asia.
The vessel is being re-deployed to Australia with 22 departures from Shanghai cancelled through to October 7.
Sapphire Princess will relocate to Australia six months earlier than planned with 44 new cruises from five cities going on sale from February 27.
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