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Hong Kong to evacuate stranded cruise passengers from Japan

Media crews gather near the cruise ship Diamond Princess at Daikoku Pier in Yokohama, on Feb. 17, 2020. (Kyodo)

HONG KONG (Kyodo) -- The Hong Kong government is arranging two chartered flights to bring home some 350 Hong Kong people stranded aboard a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship docked in Japan, the territory's security chief John Lee said Monday.

    The move came amid requests by numerous foreign countries to evacuate their nationals from the vessel, where 454 infections have been confirmed, including 21 Hong Kong people. Around 3,000 passengers and crew remain on the ship.

    "We have made our demands to Japan...and further requests for these Hong Kong people to, once they are allowed to disembark, that they should be transported immediately to the (Haneda) airport, so that (they) can get on board the chartered flights," Lee told reporters at Hong Kong International Airport.

    Lee said a 30-strong team, comprising officials and medical staff, will go to Japan to coordinate the evacuation, which should take place on Wednesday, with flights expected to arrive in Hong Kong by Thursday at the earliest.

    About 260 Hong Kong residents, 90 foreign passport holders, and five Macau residents are expected to be evacuated.

    Upon their arrival in Hong Kong, the evacuees will have to undergo a 14-day quarantine, in isolation, as a precautionary measure. Those who opt not to take the chartered flights back will "very likely" have to go through the same quarantine procedures once they eventually return.

    "This is done in accordance with the advice of the (medical) experts and according to the analysis about public health requirements," Lee said.

    The outbreak in China, as of Sunday, has infected a total of 70,548 people and caused 1,770 deaths. In Hong Kong, total infections rose to 58 by Monday, with a 69-year-old man who had no recent travel history testing positive for the virus.

    Meantime, Hong Kong police foiled a toilet paper heist, arresting two suspects who allegedly stole more than 60 packs of toilet paper that were being delivered to a supermarket early Monday. The case comes as the virus has created scarcity with goods and commodities, including facemasks, sterilizing detergent and rice.

    In Macau, casinos ordered closed two weeks ago amid the outbreak are slated to reopen on Thursday, according to the government, as the total confirmed coronavirus cases in the gambling hub stayed at 10, including five who have made a full recovery.

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