U.S. to Evacuate Citizens From Virus-Hit Diamond Princess

The U.S. will evacuate its citizens from the virus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship that’s been quarantined in Japan, according to a statement on the American embassy in Japan’s website.

The Department of State will provide chartered aircraft to bring American passengers and crew back to the U.S. The ship is the largest infection cluster outside China. An additional 67 cases have been found on board, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said in Japanese in televised comments.

The aircraft will arrive on the evening of Feb. 16 and will transport the passengers first to Travis Air Force Base in California, and some may be moved to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. They will undergo a two-week quarantine.

Japan said in a statement it’s coordinating with the U.S. over the evacuation and “appreciates such measures,” which will help mitigate its burden regarding the medical response to passengers on the ship.

Dow Jones reported the news earlier, citing an official at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are about 380 Americans on board the cruise ship, according to the report.

“We recognize this has been a stressful experience and we remain dedicated to providing all the support we can,” the embassy said in the notice on its website.

As of Thursday, there were 218 infections aboard Carnival Corp.’s Diamond Princess. The surging numbers are fueling concerns that rather than keeping passengers safe, the quarantine is allowing the virus to spread through the ship.

Some 3,500 people on the Diamond Princess are being kept in quarantine, about 200 of them aged over 80. The virus has killed more than 1,500 people since emerging in China’s Hubei province in December. France’s health ministry reported the death of a Chinese tourist in Paris today, the first fatality outside Asia.

Japan has been preparing to allow certain passengers to start disembarking the ship, Health Minister Kato told reporters Friday. About 40 people in Japan now have the virus, with local authorities in the western prefecture of Wakayama, announcing three more on Saturday.

NHK reported Saturday that eight more cases have been confirmed in Tokyo, without saying where it obtained the information.

— With assistance by Isabel Reynolds

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