A group of around 340 Americans — some of whom may have tested positive for the coronavirus — were evacuated from Japan by the U.S. State Department Sunday after being held in quarantine for over a week on board a cruise ship. Two chartered flights came to the U.S., and it was not immediately clear if the one carrying 14 infected people was headed to the Bay Area, to Travis Air Force Base.
The U.S. government, which had been telling the American citizens to wait out their quarantine on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, reversed itself after 355 people on the ship became infected with the coronavirus. As KPIX reports, one of the two chartered flights landed at Travis Sunday night at 11:20 p.m. A State Department memo on the evacuation flights explained that authorities learned of the 14 new confirmed cases while the evacuees were being transported to the planes, and the group was subsequently sequestered — one passenger on the plane told the New York Times that they were being held in a tented area of the converted cargo plane. It is not yet clear whether this flight was the one that landed at Travis or the second plane that headed to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
This nearly doubles the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S., bringing the total to 29. And more cases may arise among those who left the ship. Some Americans who were part of the quarantine being managed by Japanese health authorities on board the ship decided to stay rather than take an uncomfortable flight back to the U.S. and then endure another quarantine. They will potentially be cleared to leave the ship in a matter of days, but they will not be allowed to reenter the U.S. until March 4. As one of that group, Matthew Smith, told the Associated Press, "We figured the Japanese will release us next week, and we can then spend 2 weeks in Tokyo."
About 40 Americans of the approximately 380 on board the ship opted to stay behind.
San Luis Obispo County health officers issued a press release Sunday, per KPIX, saying that they are potentially expecting to house infected coronavirus patients who are no longer showing symptoms. Those patients, who had been Diamond Princess passengers, will be housed at Camp Roberts for the remainder of their two-week quarantine.
As the Chronicle reports via the U.S. military, 171 of the cruise ship passengers landed at Travis last night, and none of the infected 14 will remain there. Those who tested positive for the virus are being treated at an unnamed, off-base hospital.
John Haering, a 63-year-old American who became infected with the coronavirus on board the cruise ship and is now hospitalized in Japan, tells the Times that he was upset with the U.S. government's slowness. "If they were going to fly people out, they should have flown them out in the very beginning," Haering said. "That way, we wouldn’t have sat there for 12 days, all of us getting sicker. I wouldn’t have been in the hospital; I would have been in the U.S. getting the treatment that I needed, and I could have been in quarantine there."