UPDATE: As of Feb. 18 the total number of Canadians who tested positive for the virus is 43. Read the update here.
Global Affairs Canada says it is aware of at least 32 Canadians who have tested positive for the new coronavirus on board the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship that has been quarantined in Japan since early February.
“There are 256 Canadians on the Diamond Princess cruise ship,” Global Affairs said in a statement emailed to Global News Monday night.
“Of that number, we are aware of 32 Canadians that have tested positive for the COVID-19.”
This statement came two days after the government announced it was chartering a plane to evacuate the Canadians on board the ship, a decision it said it took “because of the extraordinary circumstances faced by passengers on the Diamond Princess and to lighten the burden on the Japanese health-care system.”
Previous reports placed the number of Canadians who tested positive for COVID-19 on the Diamond Princess at 15, and that they would remain in Japan for medical treatment.
More than 450 people on the ship — which has some 3,700 passengers on board — have tested positive for the virus, according to Japanese health officials, with 99 of those cases reported Monday.
In total, including the 454 from the Diamond Princess, Japan has 520 confirmed cases of the virus, as of Monday, according to Reuters. The ship is the site of the highest number of COVID-19 cases outside of China.
The cruise ship was ordered to stay under quarantine at Yokohama port on Feb. 3, after an 80-year-old Hong Kong man, who was on board from Jan. 20 to Jan. 25, developed the virus.
Two charter planes carrying American passengers of the cruise ship landed at military bases in Texas and California over the weekend, sparking another 14-day quarantine for those on board.
The U.S. State Department later reported that 14 of the evacuees received confirmed they had the virus but were allowed to board the flight because they did not have symptoms. They were being isolated separately from other passengers on the flight, the U.S. State and Health and Human Services said in a joint statement.
Canadians on the Diamond Princess are expected to undergo screening for symptoms in Japan before boarding the charter plane. Details of when the plane will fly there and return with the Canadians from the cruise are scarce.
A spokesperson for Global Affairs said Canada is working with Princess Cruises and the government of Japan “to assist in this evacuation” and that a departure date “will be confirmed once final arrangements will be confirmed with the Japanese government and the cruise ship company.”
The latest statement by Global Affairs re-affirmed that the charter plane will fly Canadians evacuees to the Canadian Forces Base in Trenton, Ont., where they will be assessed. They will then be taken to NAC Canada Training Institute in Cornwall, Ont., for a 14-day quarantine.
Anyone showing symptoms of the virus before boarding the plane in Japan will not be allowed on board and will be diverted to the health-care system in Japan instead.
“Currently 4 members of the Standing Rapid Deployment Team (SRDT), 3 experts from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and 7 Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) medical personnel are being deployed to Japan to support the evacuation,” Global Affairs said in the statement.
Both citizens and permanent residents of Canada are eligible for the charter flight.
“Non-Canadian immediate family members of Canadian citizens and permanent residents (space permitting) will also be accommodated in order to avoid separating families,” the statement said.
Any Canadians choosing to not take the charter flight will have to complete the current quarantine in Japan.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu told reporters Monday that the government is still working on determining how many Canadians want evacuation from the cruise ship, with approximately 100 of the 256 on board not yet signalling they wanted to return to Canada.
She said they expect the flight to leave later this week but was unable to provide exact details yet.
“I know there’s about 100 Canadians or so out of the 250-plus that have not responded yet in terms of what their intentions are,” she said.
— With files by The Canadian Press, The Associated Press, Reuters