Hong Kong passengers stranded on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan have baulked at the suggestion they spend another 14 days in quarantine when they return to the city, even as they welcomed the government's move to arrange chartered flights to bring them back home.
The evacuation plan came as Japanese health officials on Sunday confirmed 70 new cases of the coronavirus, taking the total number of infections aboard the vessel to 355, including at least 11 Hongkongers who have been hospitalised.
Among the 330 passengers from Hong Kong who have been held on the ship for 11 days, Young Wo-sang, who was stranded with his wife, welcomed the news, but said he did not understand the need for another two weeks in quarantine.
"We have been placed in quarantine in Japan from February 5, and it has been nearly 14 days already. Why is there a need to quarantine us for another 14 days?"
The Hong Kong Immigration Department said the move was to protect against the health risks associated with repatriating the residents, 260 of whom are SAR passport holders, with the remaining 70 travelling on other passports.
Young said his wife received text messages from the department in the early hours of Sunday, that said the couple would be notified when they could leave, once Japanese authorities had confirmed the detailed plans for disembarkation.
Hongkonger Sherry Tsang, in her early 60s, who has been stranded on the cruise liner with her husband, said the Hong Kong government's plan to put all passengers in quarantine centres for an additional 14 days upon their arrival in Hong Kong was "unnecessary".
"If we are tested positive for the coronavirus, we would be hospitalised in Japan, even the authorities would not allow us to leave the country," she said.
"If those tests come back negative, we should be allowed to go home. If the Hong Kong government is worried, just put us under home surveillance for two weeks. That would be better than those quarantine centres."
Another passenger from Hong Kong, surnamed Yeung, agreed that they should not be isolated again once they tested negative.
"Those returning passengers from the World Dream cruise last week did not need to face another 14-day quarantine period. The Hong Kong government should be consistent with its quarantine policies," she said.
She added that fear continued to hang over passengers as more infected cases were confirmed on the cruise.
"Passengers are now allowed to breathe air on open decks with face masks for one hour per day, but we do not want to go out to minimise risks of infection," she said.
Yeung said the Japanese health officials said her test result "would be out soon", and hoped that Hong Kong officials could confirm the details of the flight with their Japanese counterparts as soon as possible.
On Saturday, passengers received a letter from the cruise company's president Jan Swartz telling them the Japanese government might start a new testing process on Tuesday, and it could take a few days to test everyone on board.
She added that as they were told it should take at least three days to get individuals' test results back, passengers who tested negative on Tuesday may be able to disembark on Friday.
But Swartz added: "At this time we do not know " and have no control over " the order in which the Japanese Ministry of Health will test guests."
On Sunday, Hong Kong executive councillor Dr Lam Ching-choi said the daily increase in confirmed infections had been worrying, and believed placing passengers under quarantine for an additional 14 days was "a reasonable move to avoid any potential risk to public health".
The Hong Kong Security Bureau said the government would continue to urge Japan to confirm the detailed arrangements for the disembarkation of the passengers on board as soon as possible.
The ship, which has 3,700 passengers on board, left Hong Kong on January 25, and visited Vietnam, Taiwan and Okinawa.
Additional reporting by Chan Ho-him and Tony Cheung
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