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Coronavirus: Britons on Diamond Princess cruise ship to disembark and fly home

Britons trapped on a coronavirus-hit cruise ship in Japan are preparing to disembark after 16 days of quarantine.

About 70 UK nationals are expected to leave the ship and board a repatriation flight on Friday.

They are due to land in Wiltshire on Saturday, and will be quarantined at Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral.

More than 620 people on board the Diamond Princess tested positive for the virus, the largest cluster of cases outside China.

Two Japanese passengers – both in their 80s and with underlying health conditions – were confirmed to have died after contracting the virus on board the ship.

The cruise liner was carrying 3,700 people, including 78 Britons, when it was quarantined in Yokohama on 5 February, after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong was found to have the virus.

At least four UK nationals also contracted the virus on board, but those flying home have tested negative.

On Wednesday, when the two-week quarantine period on the liner expired, officials allowed passengers who had tested negative for the virus to disembark.

While citizens of other countries disembarked, the Foreign Office advised all UK nationals to stay onboard until it organised an evacuation flight for them, warning there could be administrative problems if they left the ship.

Their flight home is expected to land at Boscombe Down, a Ministry of Defence base in Wiltshire, early on Saturday morning.

They will then spend 14 days in quarantine at Arrowe Park Hospital, where two groups of people travelling from China have previously stayed.

“There is no risk to the public, and the hospital will continue to run as normal,” the Department of Health said.

One of the British passengers, Alan Sandford, said he and his wife Vanessa were both “very happy” about the prospect of returning home to Nottinghamshire after being found not to have contracted the virus.

He told BBC Breakfast the last few weeks had been “a major inconvenience” but that other passengers had faced “horrific” circumstances such as getting ill, being separated from their partners or being trapped inside cabins without windows.

But two of the British passengers who will not be returning on the flight are David and Sally Abel.

Mr Abel, who earlier this week revealed he and his wife had tested positive for the virus, posted a picture of himself in a hospital bed in Japan after they were removed from the cruise ship.

In a Facebook post, Mr Abel said he and his wife were being treated “in the best place”.

“Outside the hospital I came over a bit weird and nearly passed out. Every pore on my body opened and I was wheelchaired to our room.

“Full health inspection and now we know what’s going on. We both contracted a cold (unaware of) and it has not yet turned into pneumonia. (we do have coronavirus).

“Tomorrow the big tests commence. chest x-rays, ECG, chest scan, urine + more.

“We are both in the best place! They do know what they are doing and our two nurses are gorgeous. Sally likes the Dr too.”

Mr Abel said that following treatment, the couple will need three rounds of all-clears on coronavirus tests.

Meanwhile, British honeymooner Alan Steele, who was diagnosed with coronavirus on the cruise ship, announced on Facebook that he had left hospital and was in a hotel in Yokohama – ahead of his return to the UK.

Mr Steele wrote: “Informed we will have to do another 2weeks quarantine back in blighty although japan has set me free as all ok.”

Japan has faced criticism over its handling of the outbreak, with one health expert calling the situation onboard “completely chaotic”.

The Foreign Office is advising affected British nationals affected to call the British embassy in Tokyo on +81 3 5211 1100.

Elsewhere, any British passengers on board a cruise ship docked in Cambodia amid fears of an outbreak will not be treated as being at high risk of coronavirus, Public Health England (PHE) has said.

The MS Westerdam made shore in Sihanoukville on 13 February, after being rejected by five countries because one of its former passengers was found to be carrying the virus.

The ship was originally carrying 2,257 people – including a reported 100 Britons – with the majority having already disembarked – leaving 255 passengers and 747 crew members on board.

PHE said any of the ship’s passengers flying back to the UK will be asked to self-isolate when they return.

In China, Covid-19 – the illness brought on by the coronavirus – has now claimed 2,004 lives, according to the latest Chinese data released on Wednesday.

There have been 74,185 confirmed infections recorded in mainland China and about 700 cases in other countries.

In the UK, a total of 5,549 people had been tested for the virus, as of Thursday at 14:00 GMT. Only nine people have tested positive.


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