As on Monday, six Indians had tested positive for the coronavirus on the ship.

Waiting for details of evacuation from govt Indian crew onboard cruise ship in Japan
news Coronavirus Wednesday, February 19, 2020 - 12:21

A total of 542 people aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, harboured off the coast of Japan at Yokohama, have now been tested positive for the coronavirus or COVID-19, making it the largest cluster outside China. As on Monday, six Indians on the ship have been tested positive for the coronavirus. 

On Monday, the Indian Embassy in Tokyo wrote to the Indian crew members on board, to “facilitate their travel”. The crew members were asked if they would like to leave before the expiry of the mandatory Japanese quarantine period of 14 days, and if yes, if they would like to avail travel by a chartered flight. If any member chose to stay back on board, he will remain in quarantine on the ship and will have to follow the Japanese regulations, the letter read. The Indian crew were given time till 12 pm (Japan time) on Tuesday to respond. 

While the crew responded within the time frame given, they are yet to receive any other details about the evacuation from the embassy.

However, the email, accessed by TNM, came with a condition for evacuating the crew members from the ship. Apart from the mandatory quarantine of 14 more days at a government-designated centre in India upon arrival, the email stated, "Boarding on the proposed chartered flight will be subject to your body temperature being 'normal' at the time of disembarkation/boarding.” 

If the Indian crew onboard the cruise are evacuated, it would make India one of countries to evacuate its citizens from the ship. So far, the United States, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and South Korea have said, or have evacuated, their citizens from the ship. India recently evacuated over 600 Indian citizens and seven Maldivian nationals from China's Wuhan, the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The 14-day quarantine on the cruise ship will end on February 19. However, according to an Indian crew member TNM spoke to, they have been informed that while the quarantine for passengers ends on February 19, crew members will have to be quarantined for longer. “We got news from the captain that there are 14 more days [of quarantine], only for crew in separate rooms,” Daniel, a crew member, told TNM.

This was confirmed by a Japanese health ministry official on Tuesday. "Crew members will get off after all the passengers leave the ship and it's still being arranged with the shipping company," the health official said.

“But, if we are going to continue for 14 more days here, many people are going to get affected,” Daniel added.

However, a crew member informed that only those crew members who showed symptoms were being examined, and not all of them.

Some crew members have chosen to stay back till the end of the quarantine, as they will get paid till the end of the quarantine period. They will also get two more months of pay from the day of disembarkment from the ship, the members said.

Meanwhile, the crew continue to carry out their daily work, including room servicing and preparing food. They eat in a common area.

Disembarkation begins 

There are over 3,500 people onboard the Diamond Princess, including passengers and crew, and all were tested for the new coronavirus, the Japanese government said. On Monday, the government had said that those who have been tested positive for the virus have been moved to local hospitals for treatment. 

Some 500 passengers are being allowed to disembark after testing negative from February 19, bringing to an end a difficult 14-day quarantine period after their dream cruise turned into a nightmare of fear.

Those with no symptoms and a negative test received an official certificate saying they posed "no risk of infection of nCoV, as the said person has also presented no symptoms including fever at the time of infection." 

In a letter sent to passengers, Japanese authorities explained that some test results would take time to process and that therefore "we plan the disembarkation to take place from February 19 to 21".

"If you and your roommate are both negative and have no fever or respiratory symptoms, you will be able to prepare for disembarkation," the letter said. Anyone who has had contact with an infected passenger will have to undergo 14 more days in quarantine.

But not all those who have tested negative will be getting off immediately as several countries have said they will evacuate their citizens from the ship, and many of those being offered repatriation are likely to stay onboard until evacuation flights arrive.

Japan has faced criticism for its handling of the situation, with dozens of new infections detected almost daily since the ship arrived in early February. 

Citizens from other countries, who have been evacuated, have also been mandated to undergo another 14-day quarantine by their respective countries. 

With inputs from PTI