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Coronavirus: Britons on Diamond Princess cruise ship to be flown home

Britons stranded on a quarantined cruise ship in Japan will be able to board an evacuation flight home on Friday, the foreign secretary has said.

Only those who are showing no signs of illness will be able to travel, and they will be quarantined on their return to the UK.

Those who have tested positive will remain in Japan for treatment.

Dominic Raab said the flight would be from Tokyo, and urged any other Britons who wanted to leave to get in touch.

There were 78 British nationals on board the Diamond Princess cruise liner when it was quarantined on 5 February, after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong was found to have the virus.

More than 620 people onboard the cruise ship – which was carrying 3,700 passengers – have tested positive for the condition. It is the largest cluster of cases outside China.

Two passengers from the ship have now died. The Japanese citizens were in their 80s and had underlying health conditions, local media said.

On Wednesday, when the two-week quarantine period on the liner expired, officials allowed passengers who had tested negative for the virus to disembark.

The Foreign Office advised all UK nationals to stay onboard until it organised an evacuation flight for them, warning there could be administrative problems if they left the ship.

Confirming that a flight had been organised, Dominic Raab said in a statement: “Details have been sent to those who have registered for the flight. We urge other British nationals still seeking to leave to contact us,” he said.

“We will continue to support British nationals who wish to stay in Japan.”

The flight is expected to land at Boscombe Down, a Ministry of Defence base in Wiltshire, early on Saturday morning.

Those returning from the ship will spend 14 days at Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral, where two groups of people travelling from China have already been taken.

“There is no risk to the public, and the hospital will continue to run as normal,” the Department of Health said.

Meanwhile, one of the British passengers who has tested positive for the virus, David Abel, has posted a picture of himself in a hospital bed in Japan.

Mr Abel, who had been giving regular updates from the ship via social media, revealed earlier this week that he and his wife Sally had both been told they had the virus.

In a Facebook post on Thursday, he wrote that the couple had arrived at a “lovely hospital” and they had both had “a full health inspection”.

He said they will have further tests, including a chest X-ray, on Friday, adding they were in “the best place”.

Another British passenger, Alan Sandford, said he and his wife Vanessa were “very happy” about the prospect of the evacuation flight on Friday.

Mr Sandford, from Nottinghamshire, told BBC Breakfast they had both been given a certificate saying their coronavirus tests were negative, but they were still feeling nervous in case they became ill before getting their medical checks to be allowed on the flight.

He added the last few weeks had “certainly tested us” and been “a major inconvenience” but, because they were both fit and well, they had “been able to cope”.

Other passengers had faced much more difficult circumstances, he said, such as getting ill or being split up from their partners.

“When I think of other people – like those on the inside cabins who have got no daylight coming in at all – it’s horrific really.”

He said they were not looking forward to another 14 days in quarantine when they get back to the UK but “we’ve got to deal with it”.

Meanwhile, a British honeymooner diagnosed with coronavirus on the cruise ship, Alan Steele, announced on Facebook that he had left hospital.

Mr Steele said he was in a hotel in Yokohama and had been told he will need to spend two weeks in quarantine when he returns to the UK.

The Foreign Office is advising affected British nationals affected to call the British embassy in Tokyo on +81 3 5211 1100.

In the UK, a total of 5,216 people had been tested for coronavirus, as of Wednesday at 14:00 GMT. Only nine people have tested positive and the rest have been confirmed negative.

Japan has faced criticism over its handling of the outbreak, with one health expert calling the situation onboard “completely chaotic”.

Covid-19 – the illness brought on by the coronavirus – has now claimed 2,004 lives in China, according to the latest Chinese data released on Wednesday.

There have been 74,185 confirmed infections recorded in mainland China and about 700 cases in other countries.

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