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Federal government to evacuate Canadians on board quarantined cruise ship

Latest developments:

  • Government of Canada sending chartered plane to repatriate Canadians on quarantined ship.
  • More than 2,000 new cases of infection, 142 deaths confirmed in China. 
  • U.S. aircraft to arrive Sunday to take Americans from cruise ship.
  • WATCH: What we know about the coronavirus

The Canadian government said Saturday it was sending a chartered plane to repatriate the Canadians stuck on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has been quarantined in Japan due to coronavirus.

“This decision was taken because of the extraordinary circumstances faced by passengers on the Diamond Princess, and to lighten the burden on the Japanese health care system,” said a joint statement from Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan. “We are working closely with Carnival Cruise lines and the government of Japan to assist in this evacuation.”

The ship has been docked in Yokohama since Feb. 3 carrying around 3,600 passengers and crew.

Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said Saturday another 67 people on the ship tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total to more than 300 — the biggest cluster of infections outside China.

Canadians who are not showing symptoms of COVID-19 infection will be flown from Japan to Canadian Forces Base Trenton, in Ontario, after which they will be assessed and transported to the NAV Canada Training Institute in Cornwall, Ontario, to undergo a further 14-day period of quarantine.

Anyone showing symptoms of infection will be transferred to the Japanese health system to receive care, and will continue to receive full consular services, the statement said.

Watch: Canadian on board says 2nd quarantine period ‘irksome’ 


8th case reported in Canada

Paul Mirko of Richmond, B.C., is among those quarantined on the ship.

He told CBC News via email on Saturday that Japanese officials are being very thorough with their screenings — noting that it was announced that there will be individual testing starting on Tuesday. He hopes to be back in Canada soon.

“One of my main concerns is that the Canadian government would also quarantine us upon return,” said the 63-year-old. “The efficiency and methods of the quarantine here are effective and tough.”

Champagne said on Friday said that Canadian health workers are assisting in Japan after 15 Canadians contracted the novel coronavirus while on the cruise ship, where 255 Canadians were initially confined to their cabins. Those infected have been moved to Japanese health facilities, and at least three required hospitalization, Champagne said.

WATCH | Canadian health staff deployed to Japan

Paul Marko of Richmond, B.C., says he and his wife have already tested negative for coronavirus on the Diamond Princess. 0:37

Meanwhile, Canada has reported an eighth presumptive case of coronavirus, British Columbia health officials said on Friday, a woman in her 30s from the B.C. Interior who recently travelled to China. There have been four confirmed cases in B.C. and three others in Ontario, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. The risk to Canadians remains low, the agency said. 

U.S. also bringing home citizens

The United States said earlier on Saturday it would send an aircraft to Japan to bring back U.S. passengers on the Diamond Princess. About 380 Americans are on board the ship.

WATCH | B.C. resident Spencer Fehrenbacher says he’s eager to leave the Diamond Princess:

Spencer Fehrenbacher, an American with permanent residency in Canada, speaks to CBC News on Day 12 of the coronavirus-related quarantine of the Diamond Princess in Japan. 2:27

The United States urged its citizens on the ship to leave “out of an abundance of caution” on a special flight due in Japan on Sunday. They will face quarantine for another 14 days upon return, the U.S. embassy said in a letter.

“We understand this is frustrating and an adjustment, but these measures are consistent with the careful policies we have instituted to limit the potential spread of the disease,” the embassy said.

A bus with a driver wearing protective gear departs from the dockside in Yokohama next to the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has around 3,600 people on board quarantined due to fears of COVID-19. (Charly Triballeau/AFP via Getty Images)

American passengers will first be taken to the Travis Air Force Base in California and some will continue on to Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland in Texas.

Japan’s Health Ministry allowed 11 passengers to disembark on Friday. It said passengers above 80 years of age, those with underlying medical conditions and those who stayed in windowless cabins during the 14-day quarantine can move to a facility on shore.

Death reported in France

The death toll from a coronavirus outbreak in mainland China had reached 1,665, the country’s National Health Commission said on Sunday morning, up by 142 from the previous day.

There were also 2,009 new confirmed infections across mainland China, bring the total to 68,500.

An elderly Chinese tourist hospitalized in France has died of the coronavirus, becoming the first fatality in Europe, French Health Minister Agnès Buzyn said on Saturday. France has recorded 11 cases of the virus. Buzyn said she was informed on Friday that the 80-year-old man, who was treated at the Bichat hospital in northern Paris since Jan. 25, had died of a lung infection due to the coronavirus.

Outside mainland China, there have been about 500 cases in  24 countries and territories. Until the death in France, there had been three deaths outside mainland China, with one in Japan, one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines. On Friday, Egypt reported the first infection on the African continent.

MS Westerdam passenger tests positive

Passengers and crew aboard a cruise ship docked in Cambodia were allowed to disembark on Friday after spending two weeks at sea. Since stopping in Hong Kong on Feb. 1, the MS Westerdamn, operated by Holland America, was turned away by Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines and Thailand, before Cambodia allowed docking in the port town of Sihanoukville.

As of Friday, no passengers or crew were found to have COVID-19. However, an 83-year-old American woman who had been a passenger has tested positive for the illness in Malaysia, health authorities in that country said on Saturday.

The woman flew to Malaysia on Friday from Cambodia along with 144 others from the ship, the Malaysian health ministry said, adding that she is in stable condition. Her case brings the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Malaysia to 22.

A medical worker in protective suit checks a patient’s records at Jinyintan hospital in Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, in Hubei province, China. More than 1,700 health workers have been infected with the virus, according to a senior Chinese official. (China Daily via Reuters)

In a bid to prevent the coronavirus from spreading, the Chinese government extended the New Year holiday to keep factories and offices closed, but officials have now been ordered to revive business activity as economic losses mount.

Most access to the central city of Wuhan, where the first cases were reported in December, was suspended on Jan. 23. Controls spread to cities with a total population of 60 million people. Restaurants, cinemas and other businesses were closed nationwide to prevent crowds from gathering.

Under new measures, people returning to Beijing will have to isolate themselves at home for 14 days, said a notice published by state media late Friday. It said people who fail to comply will face legal consequences but gave no details.

WHO mission to China

A WHO-led joint mission with China will start its outbreak investigation work this weekend, focusing on how the new coronavirus is spreading and its severity.

Nine more temporary hospitals have opened in gymnasiums and other public buildings, with 6,960 beds in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, the National Health Commission announced. It said they were treating 5,606 patients with mild symptoms.

Meanwhile, the ruling Communist Party is trying to restore public confidence following complaints that leaders in Wuhan, where the outbreak has hit hardest, suppressed information about the disease. The party faced similar criticism after the 2002-03 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

The party should “strengthen areas of weakness and close up loopholes” after the epidemic exposed “shortcomings and deficiencies,” President Xi Jinping said at a meeting of party leaders Friday, according to state media.

The ruling party has replaced officials in charge of Hubei and Wuhan and tried to deflect criticism by allowing state media and members of the public online to criticize local officials.

Last month, residents of Wuhan shared videos online showing people being turned away from crowded hospitals. Some said on the popular Sina Weibo microblog service that family members showed symptoms but couldn’t get tests.

Anti-disease measures are causing losses so severe that economic forecasters have cut their outlooks for China’s growth this year.

The state-owned banking industry has provided more than 537 billion yuan ($102 billion Cdn) in credit to industries such as retail, catering and tourism that have been hurt most, according to Liang Tao, vice chairman of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission.