The British government has said it is “working to organise a flight” to evacuate citizens stranded on a stricken cruise ship where more than 450 people have tested positive for the new coronavirus.
The Diamond Princess cruise ship was quarantined off Japan after a passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong was confirmed to have the disease. For the past two weeks, passengers have been mostly confined to their cabins, where meals are brought to them by staff in masks and protective clothing.
Experts are still racing to understand the ease with which the virus spread, but some have raised concerns that quarantine conditions imposed on the ship appeared to be backfiring.
On Monday, the Japanese health ministry confirmed 99 more people on board had been diagnosed with the illness, bringing the total to 454. The ship accounts for the biggest cluster of cases outside mainland China.
The British government has come under mounting pressure to act, after several other countries said they would evacuate citizens.
The British foreign office said in a statement on Tuesday morning: “Given the conditions on board, we are working to organise a flight back to the UK for British nationals on the Diamond Princess as soon as possible.”
“Our staff are contacting British nationals on board to make the necessary arrangements. We urge all those who have not yet responded to get in touch immediately.”
On Monday, a Downing Street spokesman said those on board the ship, which is docked near Yokohama, were being contacted about the possibility of a repatriation flight.
It is not clear if those evacuated will be required to self-isolate once they return home, though on Monday a Holiday Inn at Heathrow airport was block-booked to be used as a quarantine facility in anticipation of more potential coronavirus cases arriving in the UK.
The US flew more than 300 American citizens out on Sunday, while Canada, Australia, Italy, South Korea and Israel have all made plans to evacuate their citizens.
David Abel, a passenger on board the ship, said on Monday he and his wife had been tested and were awaiting results. “It’s all getting to us now, not just me, other passengers as well, it’s the not-knowing factor that is the real challenge,” he said in a YouTube video filmed from the ship.
He said that he was packing a bag just in case he is confirmed to have the virus, adding that he had heard that another passenger simply got a knock on her cabin door and was “frogmarched off” to hospital.
There are four Britons confirmed to have coronavirus are among those receiving hospital treatment in Japan.