'We're good to go': Canadian cruise ship passengers take off from Japan
TORONTO -- After two weeks under quarantine aboard a cruise ship docked in Japan, Canadians are now on a government-chartered flight home.
The flight departed Tokyo Haneda International Airport at 4:30 a.m. local time and is scheduled to land at Canadian Forces Base Trenton in eastern Ontario at 4 a.m. EDT on Friday. From there, the passengers will be taken to a hotel and conference centre in Cornwall, Ont., located 275 kilometres east of the base, where they will spend another 14 days in isolation.
On Thursday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters there’s a possibility some evacuees will be able to leave the quarantine sooner than the designated two-week period if they continue to test negative for the virus and don’t have any symptoms, but that will be determined by the chief public health officer of Canada on a case by case basis.
Early Thursday morning, one of the passengers aboard the Princess Diamond cruise ship told CTV News’ Omar Sachedina he had disembarked from the vessel and he was sitting on one of the buses destined for the airport.
Passenger Jenny Rodrigue and her husband Mark also boarded a bus parked outside the cruise ship at the port in Yokohama, Japan. She said they were told there has been some kind of delay at the airport related to a “technical issue” and that it would be a couple of hours before they left for the airport.
“We’re actually not leaving the dock until about 1 a.m. in the morning. I don’t know what’s going on, but everything’s OK with the plane. It got here, it landed fine,” she told CTV News Channel from the bus on Thursday.
While they waited, passengers were permitted to exit the bus and walk around outside to “stretch their legs,” she said.
Two hours later, the buses departed the port en route to the airport.
Despite the delay, Jenny Rodrigue said she’s just “really, really happy” to be embarking on their journey home.
As for the prospect of another two weeks in quarantine in Ontario, she said she’s not bothered by it.
“I think it’s OK because I care about the health of our fellow citizens and I think it’s a good thing to do, whether people like it or not, and you just have to go with it and I’m OK with it,” she said.
Lolita Wiesner, another Canadian passenger, said she and her husband Hans were checked out by a doctor and nurse in their cabin and cleared to travel. On Facebook, she posted a photo of them wearing masks, gloves, and protective suits.
“We're good to go and sometime in the next hours we should be heading for the plane at Haneda airport,” she wrote in the post on Thursday.
The Princess Diamond cruise ship has been under quarantine since Feb. 5, when it was discovered that someone on board had tested positive for the deadly novel coronavirus, now known as COVID-19. Since then, the ship has become the site of the largest outbreak of the virus outside of China with hundreds testing positive. As of Thursday morning, Japan’s health ministry confirmed two cruise ship passengers, a Japanese man and woman in their 80s, had died from the virus.
Of the 256 Canadians aboard the vessel, 47 have tested positive for the virus. Those Canadians will not be allowed to travel on the chartered flight and will be transported to local hospitals in Japan for treatment.
Rose and Greg Yerex are two such Canadians who found out on Wednesday that they had contracted COVID-19. They were taken off the ship and travelled by bus to a medical centre in Toyoake, Japan, located approximately 300 kilometres west of Tokyo.
In an interview from their room at the facility, Rose Yerex said they are in an isolated area with the other passengers from the ship who tested positive for the virus, but they don’t have any symptoms.
“It’s just us here so as long as we wear a mask, you can actually leave the room here,” she told CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday. “You can walk in and out, you can walk the hallways.”
Rose Yerex said Japanese healthcare workers are monitoring them closely for any symptoms they might develop. She said they’re trying to remain positive and she’s just happy they will be together during this experience.
“We can see each other through this experience so that’s kind of a silver lining in the dark cloud,” she said. “As long as I’m feeling good, then no I’m not scared. If I start feeling symptoms then I’ll be scared.”
When asked if she was angry that she and her husband had been kept on the cruise ship for two weeks, a decision by Japanese authorities that has received criticism, Rose Yerex would only say that it was upsetting.
“I have said it at other times, there’s no point in playing the blame game,” she said.
Hajdu acknowledged concerns expressed about the handling of the cruise ship quarantine, and the possibility it failed to stop the spread of infection on board.
“I can also empathize with Japan in terms of quarantining almost 3,000 people off the shores of Japan or once they arrived to dock in Japan,” she said. “That’s also a very challenging situation and certainly something for us to keep our eye on as we enter in to cruise season.”
As for those Canadian cruise ship passengers who choose to travel back through commercial means, Hajdu said they will also be subjected to a mandatory 14-day quarantine when they return to Canada.
With files from CTV News' Omar Sachedina