Australia will evacuate more than 200 of citizens onboard a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship being held under quarantine in the Japanese port of Yokohama, Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Morrison said the passengers will be taken to the top end of the Northern Territory, where they will be required to be quarantined for another 14 days.
The Diamond Princess, cruise ship, owned by Carnival Corp, has been quarantined since arriving in Yokohama on February 3, after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong before it travelled to Japan was diagnosed with the virus.
More than 350 passengers onboard the Diamond Princess have tested positive for coronavirus, including 24 Australians.
“For those more than 200 Australians who will be returning to Australia, we are going to have to require a further 14-day quarantine period to be put in place on their return to Darwin,” Morrison told reporters in Melbourne.
Morrison also said space on the Qantas plane will be provided for an unspecified number of New Zealand citizens on the cruise ship.
Those passengers will be transferred to New Zealand when they arrive in Darwin, Morrison said.
Despite passengers’ spending two weeks confined to their cabins, some of which were windowless, Australian health officials said a further quarantine period was necessary.
“Given there has been recent cases, we cannot be absolutely sure that any of the currently well people on the ship who are coming home on Wednesday are not carrying the virus,” said Brendan Murphy, Australia’s chief medical officer.
Meanwhile, Morrison announced on Monday the first group of Australians and permanent residents evacuated from Wuhan to Christmas Island would be allowed to go home.
“I’d like to thank them for their patience and understanding as we work to keep Australians safe during this outbreak,” he said in a Tweet.
“Thank you also to all the others involved in the operation. The next group of Australians on Christmas Island are due to head home later this week.”
Reporting by Colin Packham.