Dozens of Britons who have been trapped on a coronavirus-hit cruise ship in Japan are set to fly home after the UK government sent a plane to repatriate them.
About 70 people who have been held in quarantine on the Diamond Princess are due to land at Boscombe Down Ministry of Defence base near Salisbury, Wiltshire, in the early hours of Saturday morning.
The Diamond Princess was carrying more than 3,700 people in early February when 10 passengers were diagnosed with the Covid-19 strain of the disease.
Since being quarantined in the port of Yokohama, a total of 634 passengers and crew have been infected, accounting for more than half of all the confirmed coronavirus cases outside of China.
Although given the all-clear in Japan, those on Friday’s evacuation flight will be taken straight to Arrowe Park hospital in Wirral for 14 days of quarantine.
The four Britons on board the Diamond Princess who have tested positive for coronavirus will not be on the flight.
David and Sally Abel from Northamptonshire have been documenting their time on the quarantined ship on Facebook. The couple are now being treated in a Japanese hospital after days shut in their cabin following their diagnosis.
Mr Abel admitted he was initially sceptical about whether his diagnosis was accurate, but since confirmed both he and his wife had tested positive.
In his latest post, he said: “Full health inspection and now we know what’s going on. We both contracted a cold (unaware of) and it has not yet turned into pneumonia. (we do have coronavirus). Tomorrow the big tests commence. Chest X-rays, ECG, chest scan, urine and more.”
He said that after treatment, the couple would need three rounds of all-clears on coronavirus tests. He said: “Wifi will not work for me, so this will be the final communication for some time. See you all before you know it.”
Meanwhile, Britons in Cambodia who left another cruise ship, the Westerdam, and who have been cleared for travel, are being assisted by the Foreign Office to make their way home. The group are receiving health advice and being helped with commercial flight bookings. All have tested negative after one case was diagnosed on board. The number of Britons in the group has not been disclosed, and it is unclear whether some have already come back to the UK.
Public Health England said airport health teams would meet the flights and speak to Westerdam passengers about any symptoms. If they do not have symptoms, passengers will be given health advice and told to self-isolate at home for 14 days but, if they have symptoms, they will be taken to hospital for testing.
As of 2pm on Thursday, a total of 5,549 people in the UK have been tested for coronavirus, of whom nine have tested positive.
There have been more than 75,000 confirmed infections recorded in mainland China and about 1,070 cases in 26 other countries – including those on board the Diamond Princess.
Authorities in China recorded 118 deaths on Thursday, bringing the total to 2,236 inside the country.
In the World Health Organization briefing on Thursday, director general Tedros Ghebreyesus said: “You will get sick of me saying that the window of opportunity remains open for us to contain this Covid-19 outbreak. WHO is doing everything we can to seize that window of opportunity, and we urge the international community to do the same.”
He said the data continued to show a decline in new cases but that this was “no time for complacency”.