TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE (CBS SF) — As nearly 230 evacuees near the end of their federally mandated coronavirus quarantine, officials at Travis Air Force base were preparing Saturday for another wave — this one American passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
Dr. Henry Walke, director of the CDC’s Division of Preparedness and Emerging Infections who has been temporarily stationed at Travis since the first evacuee flights arrived from China, confirmed some of the details of the two flights from Japan.
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There are 380 Americans and their families on the ship that has been docked in Yokohama, Japan, since Feb. 5th when a passenger came down with signs of the illness which was been traced back to a point of origin in Wuhan, China. So far, 285 people from the ship have tested positive for the new virus after 67 new cases were found Saturday.
It was not known if or how many Americans were among those with confirmed coronavirus infections.
Officials said that the same protocol will be in place for the flights from Japan as from those from China. Passengers will be screened when they get on the planes in Japan. Anyone showing any symptoms related to illness will not be allowed to board.
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They will be screened a second time when the planes land at Travis. Anyone found to be displaying signs of coronavirus will be removed and isolated at a nearby hospital for further testing. Five passengers, including a young child, were isolated after the earlier flights, but hospital testing reveal they were not infected with the illness.
Currently, the first wave of evacuees are housed on a former hotel on the base. It was not released if the new wave will require additional housing to be added to the quarantine.
Officials said the chartered flights will arrive late Sunday. Passengers will either remain at Travis or be flown on to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said in a letter to passengers and crew that was posted online Saturday.
“We recognize this has been a stressful experience and we remain dedicated to providing all the support we can and seeing you safely and expeditiously reunited with family and friends in the United States,” the embassy letter said.
The State Department urged American passengers to return home.
“To fulfill our government’s responsibilities to U.S. citizens under our rules and practices, as well as to reduce the burden on the Japanese healthcare system, the U.S. government recommends, out of an abundance of caution, that U.S. citizens disembark and return to the United States for further monitoring,” the department said in a statement.
One of the American passengers, Matthew Smith, who has been tweeting aboard the ship, including photos of the food passengers have been given, expressed disappointment at what he called “a monkey wrench” the American government was throwing into the quarantine aboard the ship.
Smith complained about having to begin a new 14-day quarantine even though he was due to get off the ship next week.
“OK, so here’s the thing: As long as the official plan by Japanese health officials is to release those of us who are still healthy from quarantine in just under four days, why would I want to interfere with that by taking up an offer from U.S. officials to fly us back to Travis?” he said on Twitter.
The letter to Americans on the Diamond Princess warns, “Should you choose not to return on this charter flight, you will be unable to return to the United States for a period of time.”
© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.