Airlines reluctant to bring HK passengers back from Japan over infection fears

Airlines reluctant to bring HK passengers back from Japan over infection fears

A passenger waves from a bus transporting Hong Kong passengers from the coronavirus-hit cruise ship Diamond Princess, as they leave the Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama on Feb 21, 2020. (Reuters photo)
A passenger waves from a bus transporting Hong Kong passengers from the coronavirus-hit cruise ship Diamond Princess, as they leave the Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama on Feb 21, 2020. (Reuters photo)

HONG KONG: A number of airlines have expressed reservations about flying home the dozens of Hong Kong passengers who have been in close contact with passengers infected with the coronavirus aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, the Hong Kong government said on Thursday.

The problem was acknowledged in a statement that revealed two more Hong Kongers aboard the ill-fated vessel had been confirmed to have the virus that causes Covid-19.

The newest cases, who were close contacts of those previously known to be infected, bring the total number of infected Hongkongers who were aboard the Diamond Princess to 72, out of a total 705 infected passengers.

A spokesman said about 100 Hong Kong passengers, including other close contacts, were now being treated or quarantined at 11 different prefectures and cities in Japan, including Kyoto and Chiba.

The statement provided a glimpse into the problems the government has faced when trying to fly Hong Kongers classified as close contacts back to the city.

"For the past few days, the government has been trying to devise a plan to bring close contacts home. However, because of the risk they pose, several airlines approached by the government have expressed reservations to take them on," the statement said.

"Additionally, they are dispersed across 11 different prefectures and cities in Japan, and many land transport companies are unwilling to drive them."

The statement also revealed that eight of those confirmed with the virus have now recovered and been released, with four already having returned to Hong Kong on their own. Four others have opted to stay in Japan to wait for government arranged flights, or to remain with infected family members.

All of the recovered patients tested negative for the virus in two consecutive tests in Japan and are no longer thought to be contagious, according to the statement, which said recovered patients were still expected to contact Port Health authorities upon arrival for 14-day medical surveillance.

"All other close contacts of sick passengers have left the ship and are being quarantined on land, and the government is working to bring them back to Hong Kong," the statement said.

In total, 218 Hong Kong residents on the cruise have been brought back to Hong Kong on three chartered flights, and 25 more have returned on their own flights. All of them were placed in quarantine camps after returning to the city.

Hong Kong presently has 93 confirmed cases of Covid-19, while two people with underlying health issues have died. More than 82,000 people have been infected globally, mostly in China.


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