By Laura Osman, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — The flight carrying healthy Canadians from the Diamond Princess cruise ship is “wheels up” and heading home, according Canada’s foreign affairs minister, after the passengers spent weeks under quarantine for the novel coronavirus.
The ship, docked in Yokohama, Japan, has seen the largest outbreak of the virus outside China, with 634 passengers having tested positive at last count.
Among the infected are 47 Canadians who will have to remain in Japan for treatment.
Japanese authorities tested everyone aboard the ship before they were allowed to disembark.
Those who were cleared to travel will be taken to Canadian Forces Base Trenton for further screening before they are placed under another two-week quarantine at the Nav Centre in Cornwall, Ont.
Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne announced the plane’s takeoff on social media at 2:56 p.m. Eastern time.
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.
The government has promised to release how many of the roughly 250 Canadians from the ship boarded the flight. Those figures are expected shortly after takeoff.
The plane is set to land at CFB Trenton at 1:30 a.m. Eastern time.
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 evacuation comes just after Japanese officials broke the news that two passengers from the ship died after contracting the virus.
The two people who died, a man and a woman in their 80s who are both Japanese, were believed to have been infected before the quarantine began on the ship, Japanese health ministry official Masami Sakoi said Thursday.
Hajdu said Canada will be keeping its eye on the examination of how the virus was handled on board the ship, especially as it relates to Canada’s own upcoming tourist season.
“There has been obviously concern about the practices on board the ship that have potentially led to the increased spread of the coronavirus on the ship,” she said, adding that she also has empathy for Japanese officials who had to handle the quarantine of 3,000 people docked off a major city.
Canada has already started to prepare for how it will deal with tourists in light of the potential spread of the virus this year, she said.
As for the more than 200 Canadian evacuees and their families who have been serving out their two week quarantine at CFB Trenton, none have developed symptoms after their arrival from Wuhan, China, the centre of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The government is now working to help facilitate their return to their homes.
—With files from Hina Alam in Vancouver and The Associated Press