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Coronavirus: Stranded Britons on cruise ship could be flown home

David and Sally Abel have appealed to billionaire Richard Branson to charter a plane to fly Britons home.

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The quarantined Diamond Princess is pictured through barbed wire at Yokohama port (Mayuko Isobe/Kyodo News via AP/PA)

The quarantined Diamond Princess is pictured through barbed wire at Yokohama port (Mayuko Isobe/Kyodo News via AP/PA)

The quarantined Diamond Princess is pictured through barbed wire at Yokohama port (Mayuko Isobe/Kyodo News via AP/PA)

More than 70 Britons stranded on a coronavirus-hit cruise ship could be flown home, Downing Street has confirmed.

A Number 10 spokesman said those on board the Diamond Princess, which is docked in Yokohama, off the coast of Japan, were being contacted about the possibility of a repatriation flight.

It comes after pressure mounted on the Foreign Office to evacuate British nationals from the ship.

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.

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.

There are 74 Britons on the Diamond Princess, of which 22 are crew members.

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.”

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.

In a new video post on Monday, Mrs Abel admitted that seeing American passengers being allowed to exit the ship had “got to her”.

She said: “I have to say, I realise why, but they put up a YouTube film of them going down the stairs, walking outside, being greeted by the American people outside there,” she said.

“That did get to me a bit.”

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Mr and Mrs Abel are still awaiting the results of their own tests for Covid-19.

Two other Britons, Alan Steele, who tested positive for the virus earlier this month, and his wife, Wendy, who tested negative, have also criticised Japan’s handling of the outbreak and the British government’s lack of action.

Mr Steele, who said he has now been given the all-clear, said on Facebook on Sunday that confining people to their cabins was starting to take a toll on passengers’ mental health.

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.

The Government is also in the process of contacting British passengers who had travelled on another cruise ship, the Westerdam, which docked in Cambodia.

Passengers disembark from the MS Westerdam
Passengers disembark from the MS Westerdam (Heng Sinith/AP)

A female guest tested positive for Covid-19 in Malaysia after all passengers were allowed to disembark on Friday. There had been no confirmed cases onboard at the time.

It is understood that the FCO is not aware of any British nationals who travelled on the cruise ship who have been diagnosed with the virus.

An FCO spokeswoman said: “Our staff are providing consular assistance to British nationals in Cambodia who have travelled on the Westerdam cruise ship and are working with the operator to establish contact with those who have recently disembarked.

“We encourage all British nationals who require consular support to contact us on +44 207 008 1500.”

Meanwhile, the Government has block-booked the Holiday Inn Heathrow Ariel hotel as a potential quarantine zone for international visitors to the UK who develop coronavirus, or for Britons evacuated from overseas.

As of Monday afternoon, 4,501 people in total have now been tested for Covid-19 in the UK, of which nine have come back positive.

It comes after the director-general of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, renewed calls for £520 million in donations as it seeks to combat the outbreak.

He told a press briefing: “As I keep saying, we have a window of opportunity now. We need resources now, to ensure countries are prepared now.

“We don’t know how long this window of opportunity will remain open. Let’s not squander it.”

Earlier, health officials told schools they do not need to close or send staff and pupils home if there is a suspected case of coronavirus.

Public Health England (PHE) will publish guidance saying that no restrictions or special control measures are needed while tests for Covid-19 are carried out on a suspected case.

While a pupil or staff member suspected of coming into contact with the virus is being tested, the guidance says no action is needed.

If a case of the virus is confirmed, then health protection teams would trace those at risk.

The new guidance comes the week after at least seven schools in Brighton, Hove and Eastbourne messaged parents saying that they would authorise absences for families wishing to self-isolate.

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.

PA