TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE (CBS SF) — While their shipmates airlifted to Travis Air Force Base began their third day of a 14-day quarantine, the remaining passengers aboard the Diamond Princess were allowed to leave the ship Wednesday in Japan.
The two chartered flights landed late Sunday with about 300 Americans aboard at Travis and Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. The State Department said 14 of those evacuees had tested positive of the illness. Of those, 13 of those were transferred for treatment in a special facility at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
COMPLETE COVERAGE: Coronavirus Outbreak — Northern California and Beyond
Meanwhile, about 500 passengers left the cruise ship on Wednesday at the end of a much-criticized two-week quarantine aboard the vessel, docked in Japan, that failed to stop the spread of the new virus among passengers and crew.
The quarantine’s shortcoming was underlined as authorities announced 79 more cases, bringing the total on the ship to 621. Results were still pending for some other passengers and crew among the original 3,711 people on board.
Japan’s government has been questioned over its decision to keep people on the ship, which some experts have called a perfect virus incubator. The Diamond Princess is the site of the most infections outside of China, where the illness named COVID-19 emerged late last year.
Many foreign governments — including the United States — say they won’t let passengers from the ship return unless they go through another quarantine period, so it was striking to see passengers disembark, get into taxis and disappear into Yokohama, where the ship is docked.
Japanese soldiers helped escort some passengers, including an elderly man in a wheelchair who wore a mask and held a cane. Some passengers got on buses to be transported to train stations. Some people still in their cabins waved farewell from their balconies to those who had already been processed.
“I’m a bit concerned if I’m OK to get off the ship, but it was getting very difficult physically,” a 77-year-old man from Saitama, near Tokyo, who got off with his wife, told Kyodo News. “For now, we just want to celebrate.”
Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said initially on Wednesday that those disembarking with negative virus tests have fulfilled the Japanese quarantine requirement and are free to walk out and go home on public transportation. He said passengers were only asked to watch their health carefully for a few days and notify local health authorities if they have any symptoms or worries.
But after meeting with experts later in the day, he urged the former passengers to refrain from non-essential outings and try to stay home for about two weeks.
“COVID-19 is not 100% known, and a lot of people got infected on the Diamond Princess. Taking those factors into consideration, we believe taking extra caution will contribute to preventing the risk of future infections,” he said.
South Korea earlier Wednesday returned seven people from the cruise ship, placing the six South Koreans and one Japanese family member into quarantine.
Other foreign passengers were to be picked up by chartered flights sent from Canada, Australia, Italy and Hong Kong.
© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.