Passengers begin leaving coronavirus-hit Diamond Princess cruise liner as quarantine ends

Sean Morrison
A passenger is surrounded by the media after she disembarked from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship on Wednesday: AP

Passengers on the coronavirus-hit cruise ship in Japan have begun to disembark after their two-week quarantine came to an end.

The Diamond Princess, operated by Carnival Corp, has been quarantined after arriving in the port of Yokohama on February 3.

More than 540 people have been infected with the virus on the liner, which originally carried some 3,700 people.

Before passengers were told they could leave on Wednesday, the UK Foreign Office said British nationals on board could be flown home “later this week”.

Officials have begun letting passengers leave the cruise ship (AP)

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said it is planning a chartered flight from Tokyo for “as soon as possible”.

“We hope the flight will be later this week, subject to permissions from the Japanese authorities,” a spokesman said on Tuesday night.

"We have the utmost concern for the affected Britons and strongly encourage them to register for the evacuation flight."

A health worker in a protective suit walks near the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship on Wednesday (AP)

The spokesman said: "At 7am local time on Wednesday (10pm Tuesday, UK time), the Diamond Princess cruise operator and Japanese authorities allowed passengers to disembark from the cruise ship," the spokesman said.

"However there is a chance that people who disembark will not be able to join the evacuation flight."

Many of those on board who have been infected with coronavirus have already been transferred to hospitals.

Japan has come under fire for its handling of the cruise ship quarantine.

Around 500 people were expected to disembark starting Wednesday, a health ministry official said, with the entire process completed by Friday.

The US evacuated more than 300 nationals on Monday on two chartered flights.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Tuesday there were 220 Australians on board and that a total of 169 would be evacuated.

Those evacuated will be flown to Darwin, where they will be quarantined for 14 days.

A captain's announcement on the liner said that Hong Kong passengers would also be evacuated over the next 24 hours.

The captain also said that according to information received, a Canadian charter flight would arrive on Friday morning.

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Brits on virus-hit cruise liner to be evacuated 'later this week'