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Exit from virus ship Tuesday

Locsin presses for repatriation amid infection of 52 PH crew

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. on Sunday said the Filipinos aboard the Diamond Princess cruise liner docked off Yokohama, Japan will be repatriated on Tuesday.

'COMPLETELY CHAOTIC'. Aboard the Diamond Princess, which has the  biggest cluster of COVID-19 infections outside of the Chinese epicenter, the situation is 'completely chaotic,' according to an infectious disease expert. AFP
The Filipinos were supposed to return Sunday, but their departure was moved back two days to complete laboratory tests and comply with quarantine protocols, health officials said.

Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ed Meñez said test results for the crew should come out Tuesday.

“Our government has decided to bring them home but [we are] hoping that all are declared COVID-free before doing so. We expect all the test results will be issued by Feb. 25,” the DFA official said.

READ: 30 more Filipinos on ship infected

“Those already declared COVID-positive are in Japanese health facilities and will be brought back after they recover,” he added.

As of Friday, the DOH said the number of Filipinos infected onboard the cruise ship has risen to 52.

“Two of them were successfully treated and discharged,” said Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Brigido Dulay said.

The DFA said the repatriated Filipinos will be brought to Athletes’ Village in New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac for a 14-day quarantine.

The DFA is securing clearances and permits for the disembarkation, land transfer, as well as the arrangements for the chartered flights for the repatriation, the DFA said.

Philippine officials are also working with the Japan Self Defense Forces to arrange the land transfer of the repatriates from Yokohama Port to Haneda where the chartered flight will take off.

The first batch of repatriates were 30 Filipinos from Wuhan, China—the epicenter of COVID-19 outbreak—who finished their 14-day quarantine at New Clark City on Saturday.

READ: Repatriation plan may leave out 52 on cruise ship

Upon the return of the Yokohama repatriates, a team of health professionals from the DOH will provide immediate medical assistance if needed, the DFA said.

They will also be provided with food, medicine, masks, and other supplies.

About 100 more passengers were allowed to disembark from the coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship on Saturday as Japan’s health minister apologized after 23 others were allowed to leave without being properly tested.

The news came as a Japanese woman who left the ship on Wednesday tested positive for the virus after returning home to Tochigi Prefecture, Kyodo news agency reported, citing the prefectural government.

She is the first person to have tested positive for the virus among the group of about 970 passengers who disembarked earlier this week, it said.

The 100 passengers who left on Saturday had been in close contact with infected people on board, local media said.

They included the last group of Japanese passengers to leave the ship, while some foreign passengers were still waiting on board for their governments to send chartered aircraft.

Television footage showed a driver in a white protective suit at the wheel of a bus with the curtains drawn so that passengers could not be identified.

They will be quarantined for two weeks near Tokyo, officials said.

At a news conference on Saturday, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato apologized for 23 passengers having been allowed to leave the ship without undergoing all the required tests.

“We deeply regret that our operational mistake caused the situation,” Kato said, adding that the passengers would be tested again.

With the latest disembarkation, a 14-day quarantine is expected to start for more than 1,000 crew still on board.

READ: US citizens flee cruise ship; others may follow suit

Many of them were not placed in isolation as they were needed to keep the ship running -- preparing food and delivering meals to cabins.

Critics have charged that they were inadvertently spreading the virus throughout the ship, which has seen more than 600 cases of the potentially deadly COVID-19 disease.

Kato defended Japan’s on-board quarantine, telling a TV program Saturday there was no medical facility large enough to admit more than 3,000 people at once.

Speaking at the news conference, Kato said six Australian passengers tested positive after leaving Japan.

Meanwhile, 18 repatriated Americans and one Israeli who returned home from the ship have tested positive, authorities from the two countries announced Friday.

Kato also confirmed that a Japanese hospital on Saturday used the anti-influenza medication Avigan, also known as Favipiravir, to treat a patient infected with the virus.

Earlier in the day, Kato said the government would push for the use of such medicines if they were confirmed to be effective.

Outside the Diamond Princess, Japan has seen 105 cases of the new coronavirus.

Infectious diseases specialist Kentaro Iwata said the situation on the ship was “completely chaotic” and violated quarantine procedures, in blunt criticism rarely seen in Japanese officialdom.

The Kobe University professor later said he had heard from a colleague on board that quarantine procedures had improved, but still recommended that all those disembarking the ship should be monitored for at least 14 days and should avoid contact with others.

In Manila, Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said a decline in new cases of COVID-19 was no reason to be complacent because nobody knows yet exactly how it is transmitted or how long its incubation period is.

“Nobody can tell if the COVID-19 virus is already at its end, if we are headed to the end of this pandemic,” she said. With AFP

READ: SE Asian tourism takes a hit as outbreak deepens

READ: Nations take drastic steps to rim spread

READ: Public warned: No cure for n-CoV; only hygiene

Topics: Teodoro Locsin Jr , COVID-19 disease , Ed Meñez , Brigido Dulay , Quarantine , Diamond Princess
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