Britons on coronavirus-stricken cruise ship await promised repatriation flight

By PA Reporters

Dozens of Britons aboard a coronavirus-hit cruise ship in Japan face an anxious wait for repatriation on a charter flight promised by the UK government.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said UK citizens on the Diamond Princess cruise liner would be flown home “as soon as possible”.

It is organising a repatriation flight from Toyko to the UK and said on Tuesday it hoped it would go ahead later this week, but no further plans have been announced.

There were 78 British passengers on the cruise liner when cases of coronavirus started to emerge.

Four British cases have since been confirmed by the Foreign Office.

But it is understood only healthy passengers with no symptoms of the new coronavirus, known as Covid-19, will have a seat on the plane.

Even those who are symptom-free will be monitored and taken to Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral for 14 days of quarantine once they return to the UK.

Anyone who develops symptoms during the flight will be taken to hospital.

A bus carrying the passengers from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship (Eugene Hoshiko/AP)

Any pre-existing cases will be treated in Japan, it is understood, with no date set for their return.

The first of the Diamond Princess cruise passengers who tested negative for the new coronavirus began leaving the ship after 14 days in quarantine.

But the FCO warned that people who disembarked may not be able to join the evacuation flight.

One of the passengers who has tested positive is a British pensioner who is also suffering from early onset dementia, his son has said.

Steve Abel, of Northampton, said his parents, David and Sally Abel, have confirmed they have tested positive for the virus and have been told to stay in their cabin on the Diamond Princess.

Mr Abel said his father has a number of medical issues.

David Abel with his wife Sally (David Abel)

He described him as an insulin-dependent Type 2 diabetic, who has a tooth infection, and was also diagnosed with early onset dementia a couple of years ago.

Mr Abel told BBC Breakfast: “They are just waiting. They have had their bags packed for over 24 hours now. They thought they were being taken yesterday but no-one came and there was no communication.”

He added: “One minute they are being told they are being taken in an ambulance. The next minute they are being told they will be taken on a coach. I do not know what the next few days are going to hold for them.”

In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Mr Abel senior said: “We are going to a hostel because there isn’t a hospital bed anywhere around.

“In four or five days we will be removed from the hostel and put into a hospital where we will receive treatment, so I can’t see in any way we are on that flight to the UK.”

Meanwhile, the European Commission has announced the EU will be financing the repatriation of citizens from any of the EU27 still stuck on the Diamond Princess.

The first flight is already en route to Japan with an advanced medical team on board, while a second was scheduled to leave on Wednesday evening.

Janez Lenarcic, the EU’s commissioner for crisis management, said: “The outbreak of this epidemic is full of human stories. We must not lose sight of them amongst the numbers and statistics.”

The tricky logistics of repatriating foreign nationals from coronavirus-hit countries comes as new analysis shows the disease has already had major implications for global trade.

A report by law firm Hill Dickson, an associate member of the British Ports Association, estimated that the first three months of 2020 would see six million fewer container shipping movements globally than normal.

Trade between Europe and China over the same period is also expected to fall by 20%.

As of 2pm on Wednesday, a total of 5,216 people in the UK have been tested for coronavirus, of whom nine have tested positive.