43 Canadians test positive for new coronavirus on cruise ship in Japan
TORONTO -- As the number of Canadians infected with new coronavirus jumps to 43 aboard a cruise ship quarantined in Japan, the government has told remaining passengers to expect a flight home from Tokyo on Friday.
On Tuesday, Global Affairs said 43 of the 256 Canadian passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in a port near Tokyo have tested positive for COVID-19. That number has more than doubled from 24 hours earlier when there were only 15 confirmed Canadian cases.
On Tuesday evening local time, Canadians received an email from Global Affairs informing them that a chartered flight is “expected” to depart Japan on Thursday to bring home healthy passengers who aren’t exhibiting any symptoms of the virus. As of Wednesday morning, the flight home had been delayed to Friday.
The message didn’t give an exact departure time, but recipients were told they would find out approximately 24 hours before the flight from Tokyo Haneda Airport.
CTV News’ Omar Sachedina reported the chartered flight had departed Portugal for Tokyo on Tuesday morning.
Passengers were urged to remain on the boat until the flight’s eventual departure, even if are cleared to leave sooner as the previously announced 14-day quarantine ends on Wednesday.
“Please note that if you leave the ship before you are instructed to do so, it will not be possible to board the assisted Canadian flight,” the email read.
It’s still not clear how many Canadians will be on the flight, however.
During a press conference at Canadian Forces Base Trenton in eastern Ontario on Tuesday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the government hasn’t been in contact with some of the passengers on the cruise ship and others have indicated they would be staying with family in Japan.
The email warns that those who don’t take the Canadian government-chartered flight home and travel on their own via commercial means will be subject to the Quarantine Act, which could include a further period in isolation in Canada.
Once they arrive at CFB Trenton, the passengers will be assessed and transported to a hotel at the NAV Canada Training Institute in Cornwall, Ont.
Hajdu said the length of time evacuees spend in quarantine at the base may vary by person depending on symptoms.
“In every circumstance, we'll be considering that particular person's health and the risk of further infection,” she said.
The health minister met with health workers, Canadian Armed Forces members, and staff from the Red Cross at the base who have been caring for Canadians and their families who are already under quarantine there. Those evacuees were transported from Wuhan, China, the epicentre of the outbreak, earlier this month.
She praised the level of organization and collaboration among professionals and volunteers from the community to accommodate the quarantined individuals.
“This is really a demonstration of the generosity of community,” she said.
Hajdu also said that morale has been high amongst quarantined evacuees and that people are just relieved to be back in Canada.
Health officials said none of the evacuees currently in isolation at the base have exhibited symptoms of the virus so far.
In Canada, eight people have tested positive for COVID-19 out of 350 suspected cases.
More confirmed cases
The Thursday flight should come as welcome news to Canadian passengers who have seen more and more of their fellow travellers removed from the ship because they’ve been infected with the respiratory illness.
As of Tuesday morning, Japanese health officials said there were 88 more cases of COVID-19 infection on the ship of 3,700 people. These latest results bring the total number of confirmed cases on the Diamond Princess to 542.
It’s the largest number of cases outside of China where the majority of people have been infected.
Passenger Kate Bedding said she and her travel companions, Greg and Rose Yerex, all from Port Dover, Ont., have been trying to keep their spirits up amid conflicting reports regarding when they will be allowed off the ship.
“Today was difficult,” she told CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday. “We’ve been keeping our spirits up for two weeks anticipating that we would get off the boat tomorrow and then we learned that no, there’s a change of plan… that we should expect to leave sometime on Thursday.”
The group also learned that Greg Yerex had tested positive for COVID-19, and as a result, he will be transported to a hospital in Japan instead of joining them on the flight home.
Sachedina spoke with the Greg and Rose Yerex Tuesday morning and said the couple was very emotional when they found out they would be separated. He said Rose Yerex still plans to take the chartered flight back to Ontario.
“We’ve decided that I will take the plane home and start my quarantine in Canada, whatever happens here with him will happen and we’ll just stay strong,” Yerex told CTV News Channel late Tuesday.
“That way I get back home and back to family and start putting things back together, because this is now two months that we’ve been away from home and it’ll be another 14 days again.”
On Wednesday morning in Japan, Greg Yerex spoke to CTV News before he was about to be taken off the ship and brought to a quarantine facility on land.
“I'm confused. I'm don’t understand this virus,” he said. “I don't understand the logic of me having it and Rose not having it. My stomach is just doing backflips, I can't eat.”
Bedding said she was disappointed to learn the Canadian cruise ship evacuees would be subjected to another quarantine period upon their arrival in Ontario.
“We were really not given a good rationale for that,” she said. “I heard one media say it was an abundance of caution.”
Hajdu acknowledged Canadian cruise ship passengers’ frustrations during her press conference and said the government is working “as quickly we can” to bring them home. She said the extra precautions were necessary because they’re trying to do their part in containing the global spread of COVID-19.
Despite the news, Bedding said she understood why authorities were being so cautious given the recent uptick in cases on the cruise ship.
“I suspect that they’re still learning about this virus,” she said. “Nobody wants to be causing anyone to catch this virus so it’s a tough, tough thing, though all of us want to get home.”
With files from CTVNews.ca Writer Ben Cousins, The Canadian Press and The Associated Press