Two chartered flights carrying about 340 Americans who were evacuated from a quarantined cruise ship in Japan have landed in the U.S. with more than a dozen people infected with coronavirus.
The first plane arrived Sunday night at California’s Travis Air Force Base and the second touched down early Monday morning at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. It was not immediately clear which flight the infected passengers were on.
Authorities said the group was already en route to a Tokyo airport Sunday when test results showed that 14 of those people had tested positive for the deadly infection. After consultation with health officials, the U.S. Department of State allowed the asymptomatic patients to board the aircraft, where they remained in an isolated area away from other passengers.
All evacuees will be under quarantine for at least 14 additional days, as is the case for any American returning from China, the epicenter of the outbreak.
The Diamond Princess cruise ship, operated by California-based Princess Cruise Lines, had been under quarantine in Yokohoma, just south of Tokyo, since Feb. 5, shortly after a Honk Kong man who had recently disembarked from the vessel tested positive for coronavirus.
The ship quickly became the largest center of infections outside mainland China, with more than 350 people testing positive for the virus as of Sunday. Among those patients were at least 46 Americans who were being treated in Japan and did not fly back to the U.S. on Sunday.
In a joint statement with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the State Department said all evacuees were “closely monitored by medical professionals throughout the flight” and anyone who happened to become symptomatic would be moved to a “specialized containment area.”
“Passengers that develop symptoms in flight and those with positive test results will remain isolated on the flights and will be transported to an appropriate location for continued isolation and care,” the statement reads.
Some of the American evacuees were frustrated with the U.S. government’s handling of the situation.
“This has been a failed experiment, as far as I’m concerned,” Sarah Arana, 52, told The Daily News. “Yeah, this sucks. I have to go sit somewhere else for 14 days. It’s not ideal. But we haven’t been properly quarantined. I have grandchildren. I wouldn’t want to go spread this around if I have it. That would be terrible. I am totally supportive of an additional quarantine for that reason.”
The pneumonia-like illness, officially known as COVID-19, has sickened more than 70,000 people around the world, though the vast majority cases are in China. About 1,700 patients have died in that country since the virus was discovered in late December.
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