- Repatriation expected on Thursday morning via two specially arranged Cathay flights
- More than 300 city residents are marooned off Japan’s coast on cruise liner stricken by coronavirus crisis
Two Cathay Pacific flights have been chartered to bring home on Thursday about 300 Hongkongers stranded aboard the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise liner, as two senior city officials prepared to head to Japan to oversee the evacuation, sources have said.
A government source said that Immigration Director Erick Tsang Kwok-wai and Undersecretary for Security Sonny Au Chi-kwong would fly to Japan on Monday night to finalise the arrangements with officials there.
Twenty-one Hongkongers are among more than 350 coronavirus cases detected on the ship, which left Hong Kong on January 25 and has been under quarantine near Yokohama since February 4.
10 more Hongkongers on cruise infected, bringing total to 21
Two Cathay Pacific flight attendants said the airline had arranged two chartered flights to Tokyo for the operation. CX8542 is to leave Hong Kong for the Japanese capital at 5.35am on Wednesday, before CX8548 starts the same journey at 8.05am.
The aircraft are due to depart Tokyo back to Hong Kong at 6am and 8am on Thursday.
The two cabin crew members, who asked not to be named, said each flight would be operated by 10 cabin crew members rather than the usual 15. They will be in full protective gear to minimise the risk of infection.
Another government source said whether the first group of stranded Hongkongers could return to the city a day earlier, on Wednesday, depended on the Japanese authorities.
"We need their approval before our people can leave the cruise," the source said. "It is unclear whether a 14-day quarantine is needed after their arrival in Hong Kong. It is still on the discussion table."
As of Monday, 21 Hongkongers on the cruise had been confirmed as infected with the deadly coronavirus, which causes the disease Covid-19.
The Post has asked the Security Bureau and Cathay for comment.
Chinese University respiratory medicine expert Professor David Hui Shu-cheong believed it was best to quarantine those returning cruise passengers for 14 days at government facilities rather than at home.
He said they still posed a high health risk given details of transmission were still known known.
"Some 70 additional cases had been reported on the cruise (on Sunday)," Hui told a radio programme on Monday.
"It means the virus is still active there. When passengers leave the cruise, it basically means they're leaving an infected area, which is somehow similar to leaving Wuhan.
More to follow …
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