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A plane carrying American passengers, who were recently released from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, arrives at Travis Air Force Base in California. -AFP
A plane carrying American passengers, who were recently released from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, arrives at Travis Air Force Base in California. -AFP

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, United States: More than 300 Americans rescued from a cruise ship quarantined off Japan because of the Covid-19 coronavirus arrived back in the United States on Monday for two more weeks of medical seclusion.

Outside China, the Diamond Princess cruise ship off Yokohama is the biggest cluster of infections, with an additional 99 cases revealed on Monday. That brought the total to 454 diagnosed, despite passengers being confined to their cabins during a 14-day quarantine.

As criticism grew of Japan’s handling of the ship crisis, governments are scrambling to repatriate their citizens. Canada, Italy, Hong Kong – and the latest country, Australia – were poised to follow the United States in removing nationals from the vessel.

The first US flight touched down at Travis Air Force Base in California shortly before midnight on Sunday, followed by the second early on Monday at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

 American evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship board buses at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland on February 17, 2020 in San Antonio, Texas. -AFP
American evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship board buses at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland on February 17, 2020 in San Antonio, Texas. -AFP

Before they boarded the flights, US officials were informed that 14 of the passengers tested days earlier had received positive results. Authorities allowed them to fly but isolated them from other passengers in a “special containment area.”

US officials deemed 13 of the cases “high risk” for Covid-19 and sent them to the University of Nebraska Medical Center for treatment and re-testing.

All repatriated passengers must undergo a two-week quarantine period on US soil.

One American traveler, Sarah Arana, told AFP before leaving the ship that she was ready to go because a proper quarantine was needed.

“This was not it,” she said.

Some Americans on the Diamond Princess declined their government’s offer.

 American evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship arrive at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. -AFP
American evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship arrive at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. -AFP

“My health is fine. And my two-week quarantine is almost over,” tweeted Matt Smith, questioning why he should want to leave.

Forty other US passengers tested positive for the virus and were taken to hospitals in Japan, said Anthony Fauci, a senior official at the National Institutes for Health.

Meanwhile, fears are mounting over passengers on one vessel, the Westerdam, who all received a clean bill of health when they disembarked in Cambodia – a staunch Beijing ally with a threadbare medical system.

An 83-year-old American woman who disembarked was stopped by authorities in Malaysia over the weekend when she was detected with a fever and later diagnosed as having the virus.

There were more than 2,200 passengers and crew on the ship when it docked in Sihanoukville, many of whom have now dispersed around the globe. Almost 1,000 were still aboard. - AFP

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