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Countries scramble to quarantine Diamond Princess returnees, some criticize Japan gov't

Diamond Princess passengers who had been released from quarantine and were being driven to a chartered plane are seen waving to reporters from a bus in Tsurumi Ward, Yokohama, on Feb. 17, 2020. (Mainichi/Kimi Takeuchi)

As passengers deemed healthy are released from quarantine on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, their home countries are moving quickly to strengthen their coronavirus countermeasures for their return.

Even after returning to their home countries, many of the passengers are finding themselves under observation periods, and 14-day quarantines have been enacted in many places. These and other policies contrast starkly with those of the Japanese government, which allowed the passengers to go home.

In one example, 11 Diamond Princess passengers from Israel who flew back to their home country by chartered plane were sent to a hospital on the outskirts of Tel Aviv upon landing, where they will be held in quarantine for two weeks.

Among them, one woman later tested positive for the virus -- the first case of the coronavirus in Israel. Israeli newspaper Haaretz was critical of Japan's handling of the cruise ship's quarantine, writing that rather than being an effective quarantine space, the vessel had become an incubator for the virus. It also said it had ended up a failed experiment in disease prevention.

Additionally, the Israeli government announced on Feb. 23 measures to prevent the spread of infection, including refusing entry to people from Japan or South Korea after infection reports began rising sharply in both nations.

Elsewhere, the U.S. government repatriated some 330 people who had been aboard the Diamond Princess on chartered flights. But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Feb. 21 that 18 of the returnees had been diagnosed with coronavirus.

With the exception of passengers who were taken to hospital upon landing, the other returnees were ordered to stay in quarantine at a U.S. air base for 14 days.

According to the CDC, Americans who forwent taking the chartered plane home after disembarking the Diamond Princess are being asked to wait 14 days before returning to the U.S. They have also been advised that they must have confirmation that they aren't carrying the virus to be allowed entry. Any individuals who do reenter the U.S. during the 14-day period will be put in quarantine.

Thirty U.K. citizens and two from Ireland who had been quarantined on the Diamond Princess and tested negative for the virus were brought back on a plane chartered by the British government on Feb. 22, landing at a military base in southwestern England.

The group were then dispatched by coach to a hospital, where they are spending 14 days in quarantine. Additionally, 19 passengers from Taiwan returned to the island on the night of Feb. 21 to begin 14 days in quarantine. Reports on a Taiwanese private broadcaster questioned Japan's decision to allow the group to return to daily life, asking, "Don't they have any concept of epidemic prevention?"

A total of 78 Indonesian and 531 Filipino crewmembers are aboard the cruise ship. Over 50 of them were revealed to be infected with the virus. The governments of both countries have said they intend to repatriate all of the crewmembers who have tested negative for coronavirus.

However, a high-ranking official of Indonesia's Ministry of Health has said that the rate of infection on the cruise ship has exceeded that even in the city of Wuhan in China, and called the Diamond Princess a new epicenter for the virus. It reportedly intends to double the observation period once its nationals return to 28 days from landing.

(Japanese original by Toshiyuki Sumi, New York Bureau, Mikako Yokoyama, Europe General Bureau, Shizuya Fukuoka, Taiwan Bureau, and Muneo Takahashi, Jerusalem Bureau)

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