Dozens of healthy Canadians who spent nearly two weeks on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan are back in Canada for another round of quarantine for COVID-19.
The charter flight landed around 2 a.m. Eastern time Friday at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, where the 129 passengers cleared for travel will undergo further screening.
The group will then be placed under another two-week quarantine at the Nav Centre in Cornwall, Ont. Once the screening was complete, they travelled by bus to the centre.
The majority of the repatriated Canadians are age 60 and older, but the overall range is between 20 and 80, Cornwall Mayor Bernadette Clement wrote on Facebook.
Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne announced the plane’s takeoff on social media at 2:56 p.m. ET.
Roughly 255 Canadians had been kept on board the Diamond Princess docked in Yokohama, Japan, since early February, over concerns that some of the 2,500 passengers and crew members were sick with the novel coronavirus.
Since then, at least 634 passengers having tested positive, marking the largest outbreak of the virus outside China.
Among the infected are 47 Canadians who will have to remain in Japan for treatment.
Two Japanese passengers from the ship have died after contracting the virus, but health officials believe they were infected before the quarantine began on the ship. One of the 11 Israelis flown home from the ship also tested positive for the virus Friday, becoming the first case inside Israel.
Champagne said the Canadians that remain in Japan are being treated in “about a dozen” hospitals spread across Tokyo, Yokohama and surrounding regions.
He said while it is ultimately up to the cruise line to repatriate those stuck them, once recovered, Canada will “obviously facilitate it.”
“We’re really trying to offer the most tailored consular assistance with respect to these people,” Champagne told reporters in Montreal on Friday. “We understand they’re in quarantine. We understand they’re facing a number of difficulties.”
Global Affairs Canada confirmed to Global News on Friday morning that a total of 129 Canadians were brought to CFB Trenton from the ship.
Among them is Lolita Wiesner and her husband Hans, from Red Deer, Alta. They have been posting updates from the journey on Facebook, including photos of medics taking passengers’ temperatures and delivering meals.
Japanese authorities tested everyone aboard the ship before they were allowed to disembark for the Canadian flight. The procedure was the same for charter flights arranged by other countries to evacuate their citizens earlier this week.
Each passenger was given a government-issued facemask and coloured wristband before they were ushered off the ship to the Haneda Airport, according to a letter from government officials to the evacuees on board the ship.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu said there was a chance that those who tested negative for the virus and show no signs of symptoms may be released from quarantine early under the discretion of Canada’s top public-health doctor.
The new plane’s arrival at Trenton comes on the same day that the quarantine period ends for Canadians who arrived at the base from Wuhan, China, on Feb. 7.
Hours after the plane filled with new Canadians landed in Trenton on Friday, those who completed the first quarantine began their journey home.
Governor General Julie Payette visited with the Canadians cleared to leave Friday after their 14-day isolation. She also toured the CFB Trenton facilities. She said in a statement that they were “in good health, good spirits, and very appreciative of the care they received during their time at CFB Trenton.”
Health Canada says it is providing the Canadians with transportation to Toronto Pearson International Airport, if needed, to “help facilitate their return home.” Arrangements could also be made at a pick-up location in Trenton.
Once home, they’re expected to provide follow-ups with public health agencies.
Government officials say none of the evacuees have shown any symptoms of the virus during their stay at the base.
Champagne said the Canadians released on Friday abided by “all the laws and regulations in Canada.”
“Obviously the Canadian Public Health Agency knows who they are and certainly they’ve been advised to tell them should their health situation change,” he said.
“These people have been tested negative. They can go back to their normal lives.”
Health Canada says those onboard the second of two flights that evacuated Canadians from the epicentre of the outbreak are “anticipated” to end their quarantine on Feb. 25.
Jim Morrison, the mayor of Quinte West, Ont., of which Trenton is a community of, spoke highly of the response he’s received from residents since the military base became ground-zero for coronavirus isolation in Canada.
“The response from the residents here has been fantastic. They’ve come forth with hours of volunteer work, with food, our library reached out and provided online services, particularly to children,” he told Global News on Friday.
“The base is handled the way they always do – with perfection and expertise. Training pays off when you get into situations like this.”
As of Friday, China has reported a total of 75,465 cases of the virus, which has led to 2,236 deaths in the country. Most of those deaths are centered in Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei province.
Eight Canadians have tested positive for the virus since the outbreak began, with three of them based in Ontario and the rest in British Columbia.
Two of those cases — one in each province — has since been cleared.
—With files from Global’s Morganne Campbell, Maryam Shah and the Canadian Press