More American passengers on a cruise ship quarantined off Japan as a result of the global spread of novel coronavirus will be offered a way ashore, U.S. diplomatic officials said late Friday.
But the exit will come with a caveat: Travelers, once on dry land, will remain quarantined there by Japanese authorities.
On Friday the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo issued a statement to American passengers of the Diamond Princess, quarantined off the coast of Yokahama since Feb. 3, outlining a staggered exit of the ship for those who want to come ashore voluntarily.
“The disembarkation of passengers will take place over the next few days, and it is our understanding that this will be a phased approach,” the embassy said in a separate statement to the media.
It would start with passengers older than 80 who have pre-existing conditions and who occupy no-balcony rooms, then it will move to travelers 75 and older with the same attributes, then to those 70 and older with those attributes, according to embassy.
The voluntary exits were announced by Japanese officials Thursday and began Friday, with 22 passengers offered the chance to leave and 11 accepting, according to the embassy, which cited figures from Princess Cruises. Two of those who left the vessel were U.S. citizens, diplomatic officials said.
“Please note that passengers given this option will not be exiting quarantine, but rather will be moved to a facility provided by the Government of Japan,” the embassy said in its statement to passengers and crew.
Word of the voluntary exits came as the Wall Street Journal reported the United States planned to “evacuate” as many as 380 American citizens aboard the ship and fly them stateside.
Asked about the report, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said in a statement, “We continue to collaborate closely with Health and Human Services (HHS), Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Government of Japan, and Carnival Cruise lines on all aspects of this dynamic situation.”
An American evacuee of Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the outbreak, told NBC News about a town hall meeting Friday at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California, a destination for American evacuees. The audience was told Diamond Princess passengers will be brought there and quarantined away from the Americans who came from Wuhan, the source said. Some cruise ship travelers would go to another location, however.
As of Friday 218 of the 771 passengers and crew that have been tested are positive for the virus, also known as COVID-19, authorities said.
At least 32 of those stricken with the virus are Americans.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has four experts in Japan, with more expected to arrive in a matter of days, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said.
In China, where the outbreak started and where it continues to wreak havoc, the National Health Commission Friday confirmed 66,492 cases of COVID-19, with the death toll at 1,523.
Segilola Arisekola contributed.