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More than 70 Brits stranded on coronavirus-hit cruise ship could be flown back to UK
17 February 2020, 14:30
More than 70 Brits stranded on a coronavirus-hit cruise ship could be flown home in a bid to “guarantee their health and safety.”
Downing Street confirmed the Government are looking into the possibility of organising a repatriation flight for those on board the Diamond Princess, which is docked in Yokohama, off the coast of Japan.
There are 74 Britons on the Diamond Princess, of which 22 are crew members.
On Monday, the Japanese Health Ministry confirmed 99 more people on board have been diagnosed with coronavirus illness, also known as Covid-19, bringing the total to 454.
Four Britons with confirmed coronavirus are currently in hospital in Japan, according to the latest official figures.
A Number 10 spokesman said: "We sympathise with all those caught up in this extremely difficult situation.
"The Foreign Office is in contact with all British people on the Diamond Princess, including to establish interest in a possible repatriation flight.
"We are urgently considering all options to guarantee the health and safety of those on board."
On Sunday, the US charted two planes and flew home 340 of its citizens while other countries, including Canada, Hong Kong and Australia, have said they are organising flights to remove people from the ship.
It comes after Sir Richard Branson said Virgin Atlantic was "in discussions" with the Government over whether he could help those stranded.
Sir Richard took to Twitter in response to an appeal from David and Sally Abel, who are among those who have been trapped in their cabins for days.
Sir Richard tweeted: "@VirginAtlantic does not fly to Japan, but we are in discussions with the UK government and seeing if there is anything we can do to help."
Last week, Mr Abel appealed to Mr Branson to charter a special plane to rescue British nationals from the ship.
Princess Cruises president Jan Swartz has said the firm has worked with authorities to send more doctors and nurses on board the ship and has helped fulfil 2,000 prescription requests.
However, there is still uncertainty over whether passengers will be able to leave the ship at the end of the 14-day quarantine period on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Independent reported that the Holiday Inn Heathrow Ariel hotel has been block-booked as a potential quarantine zone for international visitors to the UK who develop coronavirus or for Britons evacuated to the UK from overseas.
Nine people in the UK have tested positive for Covid-19, with eight of those patients now discharged from hospital.
Meanwhile, the death toll in mainland China rose by 105 to 1,770, in figures announced early on Monday morning.
The number of people infected globally stands at 68,500, according to the country's National Health Commission.