Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA) / AFP
When the coronavirus outbreak ravaged the Japanese cruise ship Diamond Princess on February 3, the ship management was heavily criticised for its lack of medical preparedness and inability to contain the infection. And out of the 3,700 passengers aboard, almost 700 have tested positive in what is being called “petri dish” of coronavirus. But apart from the infected passengers, the situation is tense for others as well, simply because of their proximity to the patients.
While different countries are now preparing to evacuate the cruise passengers who tested negative for coronavirus after the 14-day quarantine, India is following suit by sending an aircraft to rescue 122 Indians. This will leave out the 16 who have tested positive and are being treated at a shoreside facility in Yokohama. “A chartered flight is being arranged to repatriate Indian nationals on board Diamond Princess, provided they have (a) consented, (b) not tested positive for COVID19, (c) cleared by the medical team,” the Indian Embassy in Tokyo tweeted on Tuesday, February 25.
The evacuation attempt has been tentatively scheduled for February 26, subject to certain conditions since those stuck on the ship will be rescued before the quarantine period set by Japanese authorities ends. So, India has insisted that all those being evacuated will first be subjected to a medical test, and if they still test negative, they will be flown to India and placed under another 14-day quarantine.
However, according to NDTV, many passengers are concerned that the evacuation aircraft is the same as the one used to transport Americans who tested positive for coronavirus. They believe that since many American passengers tested positive after disembarking the ship, the highly contagious virus could spread to those taken to new locations.
The Indian government has a strict protocol for repatriation, with the Indian Embassy in Tokyo emailing a detailed advisory to all Indians on board during the evacuation process. Around 2 PM (Japan time), the Indians—116 crew and six guests on the ship—will be moved into buses after the ship docks at the Yokohama port, and driven to Haneda Airport 23 km away without making any stops. Authorities have also said that there will be no toilets on the vehicles or food on the flight, and have advised the evacuees to eat and use the loo before leaving the ship. They have also asked all passengers to carry valuables in their hand baggage and said that all checked-in bags will also be kept under quarantine for two weeks. There will also be no in-flight entertainment aboard the rescue flight.
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