Some Hongkongers stranded on board the coronavirus-hit Diamond Princess cruise liner in Japan will not have a chance to board chartered flights home as they are on extended quarantine after family members were confirmed to be infected.
Among this group are two elderly women, aged 69 and 70, who started a 14-day quarantine on the ship with their spouses on February 5, one day after it docked in Yokohama. They were expecting to disembark on Wednesday, but were asked to remain on board until March 1 as their loved ones had tested positive three days ago for the virus, which causes the disease known as Covid-19.
It remained unclear if Hong Kong or Japanese authorities had issued the order for the women, their sons said at a press conference.
Speaking to the media in Hong Kong, the couples' family members said they were worried the women would also get infected if they stayed on the ship any longer, while a shortage of medicine on board also added to their concerns.
They urged the Hong Kong government to arrange extra flights for their mothers and those in a similar situation.
The two sick passengers, aged 69 and 71, were sent to Chiba East Hospital, Chiba, east of Tokyo. It is one of the facilities housing the 53 Hongkongers confirmed with Covid-19 while on the Diamond Princess.
The sons revealed their fathers had to share a ward with four other Japanese coronavirus patients and use the same toilet, expressing fears the arrangement would worsen their condition.
They added the hospital also did not have the medicine required to treat the men's chronic heart illnesses.
The family members urged Hong Kong's health officers to visit the two patients in hospital, who had difficulty communicating with Japanese medical workers. They also called for city authorities to supply their fathers with the necessary medication.
One of the sons, who only identified himself as Chan, 42, said while he believed both the Hong Kong and Japanese authorities had done their best to cope with the virus outbreak, their responses failed to assuage the concerns of passengers' families.
Chan said Hong Kong health officers had told him they had no authority to decide who could leave the ship.
Chan feared his 70-year-old mother would fall victim to the ship's worsening sanitary conditions, but her request to change rooms was denied on Wednesday afternoon because of limited available cabins and a manpower shortage.
"The cabin's windows cannot be opened. There is no balcony, and no fresh air can enter," Chan said, citing his mother. "All meals delivered on the ship were cold, and my mother had only eaten some bread."
Chan said he was worried that his mother, who had chronic heart problems, would run out of medicine in three days.
The other son, surnamed Cheng, said Hong Kong's immigration officers had sent medicine to his 69-year-old mother once, but the batch she used for her hypertension and high cholesterol level would expire on Wednesday, with fresh supplies not guaranteed.
Cheng's mother said in a voice message played to the media: "I'm an elderly person suffering long-term illnesses. I need to take medicine regularly, but now I am stuck on the ship. It's very painful, and I feel very helpless."
Meanwhile, lawmaker Vincent Cheng Wing-shun, who is assisting Hongkongers in Yokohama, said on Wednesday that the infected Hong Kong passengers were sent to about six to eight hospitals in Japan.
"Different hospitals have different practices," Cheng, who had visited two of the facilities, said.
"Although the conditions of cases are not serious, the hospitals I approached mainly asked patients to wait or did some check-ups without prescribing medicine to treat the disease."
He added that medication would be given to those with fever.
"Patients can only wait with nothing else to do. Their families are not allowed to visit them," Cheng said. "They are very worried about how they will be handled."
Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch of Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection, said that to her knowledge, the claims by the two women that they had to be on extended quarantine were true.
But Chuang declined to elaborate, saying Hong Kong had sent a team of immigration officers to Japan to liaise with authorities there on who could return and when they could do so.
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