Coronavirus: 32 British nationals on board evacuation flight from Japan

22 February 2020, 16:31 | Updated: 23 February 2020, 10:46

Less than 50 British nationals may be on the plane when it departs for the UK
Less than 50 British nationals may be on the plane when it departs for the UK. Picture: PA

A flight home for dozens of Britons who have been trapped on a coronavirus-hit ship has taken off from Japan.

The Foreign Office said on Twitter: "We can confirm the evacuation flight from Japan has now departed with 32 British and European passengers on board, as well as British government and medical staff.

"It is due to arrive in the UK on Saturday morning."

Dozens of Britons have been stuck in Japan after travelling aboard the cruise ship and were initially set to fly out on Friday.

But the flight had been delayed and it instead departed in the early hours of Saturday, local time.

It is understood that less than 50 British nationals may be on the plane when it departs for the UK.

The passengers are due to land at Boscombe Down Ministry of Defence base, near Salisbury in Wiltshire.

Only those without symptoms will be able to board the plane, and all the passengers will be taken to Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral for 14 days of quarantine.

One passenger, who was diagnosed with Covid-19 and has since been given the all-clear, joked that the experience will be like visiting a holiday camp.

Honeymooner Alan Steele was taken to a Japanese hospital and has since tested negative for the virus and been reunited with his wife, Wendy.

Writing on Facebook, Mr Steele said: "Wendy's test was negative so Butlins the Wirral here we come for 14 days."

Since being kept on board the cruise liner in the port of Yokohama, a total of 634 passengers and crew have been infected, accounting for more than half of all the confirmed coronavirus cases outside of China.

The four Britons on board the Diamond Princess who have tested positive for coronavirus will not be on the flight.

David and Sally Abel, from Northamptonshire, are now being treated in a Japanese hospital after spending days shut in their cabin following their diagnosis with the virus.

In a Facebook post, Mr Abel said he and his wife were "in the best place" and said the couple will need to test negative for Covid-19 three times after treatment.

He added: "See you all before you know it."

Meanwhile, Britons in Cambodia who left another cruise ship, the Westerdam, and who have been cleared for travel are being assisted by the Foreign Office to make their way home.

The group are receiving health advice and being helped with commercial flight bookings. All have tested negative after one case was diagnosed on board.

It is unclear how many Britons are returning and whether some British passengers had already returned.

Public Health England (PHE) said airport health teams would meet the flights and speak to Westerdam passengers about any symptoms.

As of 2pm on Thursday, a total of 5,549 people in the UK have been tested for coronavirus, of whom nine have tested positive.

The NHS has started testing people for coronavirus in their own homes in London and will roll this out to some other areas in the coming weeks.

There have been more than 75,000 confirmed infections recorded in mainland China and around 1,070 cases across 26 other countries - including those on board the Diamond Princess.

Authorities in China recorded 118 deaths on Thursday, taking the total to 2,236 inside the country.

In the World Health Organisation (WHO) briefing on Thursday, director-general Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus said data continues to show a decline in new cases "but this is no time for complacency".