TAIPEI (The China Post/ANN) — Taiwan could bring home its nationals from the virus-struck Diamond Princess cruise ship as early as Friday (Feb. 21), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA, 外交部) told a news conference.
Japan has given Taiwan the green light to charter its own aircraft to for the 19 nationals tested negative of the novel coronavirus, MOFA spokesperson Joanne Ou (歐江安) said on Thursday.
If things go according to plan, a China Airlines aircraft would on Friday evening land in Haneda Airport, an international airport south to Tokyo and approximately 40 minutes by car from Yokohama, the city in which the cruise ship is docked.
Only those who tested negative of the virus and have not shown symptoms are eligible to board the flight, Ou said.
Of the 24 Taiwanese on board the ship, including passengers and crew, five tested positive, five negative. The results for the remaining 14 are pending.
The infected five have been hospitalized and are forbidden to return until they recover, Ou said.
The five who tested negative disembarked the cruise ship on Thursday, and are staying at designated hotels, awaiting the charter flight.
The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC, 中央流行疫情指揮中心) said on Wednesday that Taiwanese on board Diamond Princess who wish to return must take the government-arranged flight and undergo another 14-days quarantine upon arrival.
Ou clarified on Thursday that should any of the 19 nationals wish to stay in Japan, they will not be required to return immediately.
However, since the CECC had classified the Diamond Princess as a “Wuhan pneumonia-affected area”, those who remain in Japan in the meantime will still be subject to the same epidemic prevention measures when they eventually arrive in Taiwan.
To date, 621 passengers and crew on the cruise ship have been infected by the COVID-19 virus, two of which have died, Japanese local media reported.
This is by far the biggest cluster outside mainland China, the epicenter of the epidemic.
As of press time, the virus has infected over 75,000 people across 27 countries globally, killing more than 2,000.