Britons evacuated from a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship are preparing to spend more time in quarantine after landing back in the UK.
The passengers, who were trapped on the Diamond Princess cruise ship off the coast of Japan for more than two weeks, will be isolated for a further 14 days at a facility on Merseyside.
A repatriation flight carrying 32 British and European evacuees from the vessel touched down at Ministry of Defence base Boscombe Down in Wiltshire shortly after 11.30am on Saturday.
Masked passengers are being bussed to Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral for 14 days of quarantine to protect against the spread of the illness should any of them be infected.
The group, who tested negative to having Covid-19 before they flew, are expected to arrive at the hospital later on Saturday afternoon.
As with the previous coachloads brought to Arrowe Park, the bus drivers did not appear to be wearing any protective clothing as the convoy, escorted by police and ambulance vehicles, was pictured leaving the MoD base.
It is unclear where the small number of EU citizens will be taken following the arrival of the plane, which also carried British government and medical staff, in the UK.
In a statement issued after the flight landed, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “We have brought 32 British and European citizens safely home from Japan.
The UK has brought home 32 British and European citizens from the #DiamondPrincess ship. Thanks to our staff and medics on board who supported the flight.
— Dominic Raab (@DominicRaab) February 22, 2020
“The FCO worked hard to get them back to the UK securely.
“Our number one priority has consistently been the health and safety of UK nationals.”
The four Britons on board the Diamond Princess who have recently tested positive for coronavirus were not on the flight.
Arrowe Park was previously used to host 83 British nationals for a 14-day quarantine period earlier in February after they were flown out of Wuhan in China, which has been at the centre of the outbreak.
Staff at Arrowe Park now have a “blueprint” for how to handle the new arrivals, Wirral Teaching Hospital NHS Trust chief executive Janelle Holmes said.
Speaking on Saturday, she said: “There was a lot of preparation that went in for our Wuhan guests who successfully left and had been really appreciative of the support and help that we provided.
“That has given us a blueprint for building on that for the new arrival of guests.”
She said the quarantined group will be “safe, well-managed and comfortable” during their stay at the quarantine accommodation blocks – while the staff previously living there remain in nearby hotels.
Before the flight, one passenger who was diagnosed with Covid-19 and has since been given the all-clear joked that the experience would be like visiting a holiday camp.
Honeymooner Alan Steele was taken to a Japanese hospital and has since tested negative for the virus and been reunited with wife Wendy.
“Wendy’s test was negative so ‘Butlins the Wirral’ here we come for 14 days,” Mr Steele posted on Facebook.
Since being kept on board the cruise liner in the port of Yokohama, a total of 634 passengers and crew have been infected, accounting for more than half of all the confirmed coronavirus cases outside of China.
It is understood some British nationals who are part of the Diamond Princess crew opted to remain.
One British couple on board who were diagnosed with coronavirus have both since been diagnosed with pneumonia.
The family of David and Sally Abel, from Northamptonshire, said they have now been moved to a “prison”-like hospital.
The couple were on the cruise for their 50th wedding anniversary when it was placed into quarantine.
Mr Abel has been diagnosed with acute pneumonia, while Mrs Abel has a mild case.
Although they were originally in a hospital just 90 minutes from the coronavirus-stricken cruise ship, Mrs Abel called her son in the middle of the night to say the couple were suddenly being moved to a different “three-star” hospital.
Steve Abel, their son, posted video updates on the couple’s YouTube channel alongside his wife Roberta on Friday night and Saturday morning.
Britons in Cambodia who left another cruise ship, the Westerdam, and who have been cleared for travel, are also being assisted by the Foreign Office to make their way home.
All have tested negative after one case was diagnosed on board.
In order to help combat the spread of the virus in the UK, the NHS has started pilots of home testing for coronavirus where NHS staff, including nurses and paramedics, will visit people in their own homes.