Coronavirus: Japan says confirmed cases on Diamond Princess cruise ship rise to 355

An ambulance, believed to be carring an infected passenger of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, leaves the Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, Japan, on Feb 14, 2020.
An ambulance, believed to be carring an infected passenger of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, leaves the Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, Japan, on Feb 14, 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

TOKYO (AFP) - The number of people who have tested positive for the new coronavirus on a quarantined ship off Japan's coast has risen to 355, the country's health minister said on Sunday (Feb 16), as Hong Kong and Canada said they would send planes to pick up their residents.

"So far, we have conducted tests for 1,219 individuals. Of those, 355 people tested positive. Of those, 73 individuals are not showing symptoms," Mr Katsunobu Kato told a roundtable discussion on public broadcaster NHK - a rise of 70 from the last government total.

There were more than 3,700 people on the ship when it arrived off the Japanese coast in early February.

It was placed into quarantine after a passenger who got off the boat in Hong Kong tested positive for the newly named Covid-19 disease.

Those diagnosed on board have been removed to hospital, with the people remaining on the ship told that their quarantine would be over on Feb 19, two weeks from when it officially began.

The Hong Kong government will send aircraft to Japan to bring back passengers on the Diamond Princess, where the most coronavirus infections outside China have occurred.

In a statement late on Saturday, the Hong Kong Security Bureau said chartered flights would return Hong Kong residents to the city for free once Japanese authorities had confirmed the plan.

The passengers will be required to undergo a further 14 days of quarantine after arriving in Hong Kong, the bureau added.

Canada said it has chartered a plane to evacuate its citizens onboard the Diamond Princess, the Canadian government said in a statement late on Saturday.

Canadian passengers who exhibit symptoms of the coronavirus infection will not be permitted to board the flight and will instead be transferred to the Japanese healthcare system to receive appropriate care, the government said. After arriving in Canada, the passengers will undergo a 14-day period of quarantine, the statement added. 

South Korea, too, said it would evacuate Koreans. “The government plans to bring those Koreans home if they are tested negative from screenings by the Japanese authorities and are willing to return,” Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-hoo told a briefing. 

The United States has also said it will send aircraft to Japan to bring back passengers from the ship.