HONG KONG - More than 100 Hong Kong passengers stranded on cruise ship Diamond Princess in Japan finally made it back to the city on Thursday (Feb 20) morning on a government chartered flight after being quarantined on board the ship for more than two weeks.
The chartered Cathay Pacific jet carrying 106 Hong Kong people from the cruise ship in Yokohama landed in the city at 8.30am.
The evacuees, mainly the elderly and middle-aged, will be quarantined for two more weeks at a newly-built public housing estate in Fo Tan.
They were among some 500 passengers allowed off the virus-stricken ship on Wednesday after testing negative for coronavirus.
The Diamond Princess has been quarantined in Yokohama since Feb 4.
As at Wednesday night, 621 out of 3,600 passengers were confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus.
Of the total number of passengers, 352 are Hong Kong citizens, with 53 of them infected with the virus and will remain in Japan for treatment.
A second chartered flight is expected to leave Tokyo on Thursday night.
Secretary for Security John Lee told the media on Thursday morning that the government's aim is to allow all Hong Kongers to disembark the ship so they can be taken back to Hong Kong as soon as possible.
"We have been pressing the Japanese authorities to give priorities to the treatment of Hong Kong residents.
"The Japanese authorities have indicated they will start allowing passengers on board the cruise to disembark today after the passengers have been tested negative," Mr Lee said.
He added that so far, between 20 and 30 Hong Kong passengers "should have been tested negative".
Even as relief washes over the evacuees, there was heavy police presence in Fo Tan near Chun Yeung Estate, which is the designated fifth quarantine site for the 106 Hong Kongers.
Besides a roadblock, officers in riot gear were reported to be patrolling outside the estate and at Fo Tan MTR station.
The controversial move to use new public housing estates as quarantine centres has triggered protests in Fanling and Fo Tan.
In Fanling, demonstrators clashed with police and started fires before the government scrapped plans to use it for quarantine.
Last week, around 100 people, many of whom had expected to move into the new flats, marched in Fo Tan in Sha Tin to protest the government move to use Chun Yeung Estate as a quarantine site.
The government has said the facility is hundreds of metres away from homes, and move-in dates had not been confirmed.