Fourteen Americans who were among the hundreds evacuated from a quarantined cruise ship off Yokohama, Japan Sunday have tested positive for the novel coronavirus that has claimed more than 1,700 lives in a growing outbreak in China.
More than 300 U.S. citizens and their immediate family members who had been passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship were taken off the vessel and repatriated back to the U.S. on two charter flights that landed at Travis Air Force Base in California and Lackland Air Force Base in Texas overnight, according to the Associated Press.
In a statement released early Monday, the U.S. State Department spokesperson said American evacuees were all deemed asymptomatic and fit to fly before being processed for evacuation.
But during the evacuation process, after passengers had left the ship and gone to the airport, U.S. officials received notice that 14 passengers, who had been tested two to three days earlier, had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
“These individuals were moved in the most expeditious and safe manner to a specialized containment area on the evacuation aircraft to isolate them in accordance with standard protocols,” the State Department’s spokesperson said in the statement.
The spokesperson said the State Department made the decision to allow the 14 individuals, who were in isolation, separated from other passengers and continued to be asymptomatic, to remain on the aircraft to complete the evacuation process after a consultation with health officials.
The Diamond Princess been on quarantine since Feb. 3 after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong was diagnosed with the virus.
More than 1,200 people on the cruise ship, which had 3,700 passengers and crew on board, have been tested since the quarantine began — 355 of them have tested positive for the virus, including some Americans. Japan’s health ministry confirmed 70 additional coronavirus cases on board the ship Sunday.
The State Department said all passengers evacuated Sunday were closely monitored by medical professionals throughout the flight and any who become symptomatic were to be moved to a specialized containment area.
“Passengers that develop symptoms in flight and those with positive test results will remain isolated on the flights and will be transported to an appropriate location for continued isolation and care,” the department’s spokesperson said, without elaborating on what that location could be.
Hundreds of Americans were evacuated from Wuhan, the center of the epidemic in China’s Hubei province, aboard charter flights in late January and earlier this month. They were also subjected to a mandatory 14-day quarantine at military bases upon arrival in the U.S.
Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and Italy are also making efforts to evacuate their citizens from the quarantined cruise ship.