A passenger plane chartered by the federal government to bring nearly 200 Canadians stranded on a quarantined cruise ship in Japan is on its way home and is expected to arrive in Canada in the wee hours of Friday, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne announced Thursday.
There were 256 Canadians on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, quarantined in Yokohama and 47 of them have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, officials said.
Only Canadians and permanent residents from the ship who have not tested positive for the virus were eligible to board the chartered flight.
Global Affairs Canada (GAC) said that if space allowed, non-Canadian immediate family of citizens and permanent residents would be allowed on the flight to allow families to stay together. It’s not yet clear how many people ended up on the flight.
The aircraft will bring passengers from Japan to Canadian Forces Base in Trenton, after which passengers will be assessed and transported to the NAV Canada Training Institute in Cornwall, Ontario, to undergo a further 14-day period of quarantine, said Barbara Harvey, spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada.
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“Should Canadians choose not to return on this charter flight, they will need to complete the current quarantine being administered by Japan and follow the instructions of local authorities,” she said.
“Canadians seeking to return to Canada by commercial means will be subject to the Quarantine Act upon their return, in line with a determination to be made by the Public Health Agency of Canada.”
The Canadian embassy is working to provide consular support to Canadians stranded in Japan because of the coronavirus, such as making hospital visits and helping to stay in touch with family members, insurance companies and health care providers, Harvey said.
“We will continue to provide full support to those Canadians who will remain in Japan following the plane’s departure,” she said.
The ship with was quarantined at Yokohama, south of Tokyo, on Feb. 3 after a former passenger was diagnosed with the virus in Hong Kong.
The Japanese government has been questioned over its decision to keep people aboard the ship, which some experts have called a perfect virus incubator. The Diamond Princess is the site of the most COVID-19 infections outside of China, where the illness emerged late last year. As of Thursday, COVID-19 634 cases have been identified among the original 3,711 people on the ship, Japanese health officials said.
Two elderly Japanese passengers who had contracted the virus while on the ship had died, Japanese media reported.
With files from CBC News