UK begins repatriating citizens from virus-stricken Japan cruise ship

British passengers wave from the window of a bus after they left the coronavirus-hit cruise ship Diamond Princess at the Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan, on Feb 22, 2020.
British passengers wave from the window of a bus after they left the coronavirus-hit cruise ship Diamond Princess at the Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan, on Feb 22, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - The British government said Saturday (Feb 22) that it had begun repatriating its citizens from a cruise ship quarantined off Tokyo for more than two weeks by Japanese authorities over the coronavirus outbreak.

"We can confirm the evacuation flight from Japan has now departed with 32 British and European passengers on board, as well as British government and medical staff. It is due to arrive in the UK on Saturday morning," the Foreign Office said in a statement.

The plane will land at Boscombe Down military base in southern England and passengers will be placed in a further 14-day quarantine.

The Diamond Princess cruise ship was quarantined on Feb 5 when a passenger who left in Hong Kong was found to be infected with the virus.

Passengers were confined to cabins except for brief trips on deck wearing masks and gloves, where they were told to keep their distance from others.

Hundreds of passengers have since been allowed to disembark this week after testing negative for the deadly virus.

The United States, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and South Korea have all said they will evacuate their residents from the boat, with more than 300 Americans arriving back on home soil on Monday.

Tokyo has faced criticism for its handling of the situation, with dozens of new infections detected almost daily since the ship arrived.