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Confusion in Japan as more HKers brought home

2020-02-22 HKT 01:41
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  • Confusion in Japan as more HKers brought home
The second of three government-chartered flights carrying 84 former passengers of the coronavirus-laden Diamond Princess Cruise ship landed back in Hong Kong early on Saturday morning – after a day of confusion that saw Japanese authorities attempt to bar dozens of people from returning home.

The government said 82 of the passengers were Hong Kong residents, and two live in Macau. They were brought back to the former Portuguese enclave by road from the airport.

Officials wearing protective clothing quickly whisked the others onto coaches, to bring them to a newly built public housing estate in Fo Tan where they will have to undergo two more weeks of quarantine as a health precaution.

More than a hundred passengers were originally supposed to fly back to the SAR after having been cleared of the new coronavirus by Japanese authorities.

But the Director of Immigration, Erick Tsang, who is in Tokyo along with other local officials to make the necessary arrangements to repatriate the Hong Kong passengers, said problems started early in the afternoon, when Japanese authorities suddenly claimed that 29 people who had gotten off the ship shouldn’t have been allowed off because they were considered to be close contacts of confirmed coronavirus patients.

At that point, some of these supposed ‘close contacts’ were already at the airport, going through customs checks.

Seventeen people were ultimately barred at the gate, along with one more Hong Kong resident who had rushed to Haneda Airport from the ship.

Before officials could make a final determination of whether they were actually close contacts who were putting others at risk, the chartered flight had been held up for hours, and Tsang said the tough decision had to be made to let 84 former cruise ship passengers depart first, or risk the entire flight being cancelled.

Japanese authorites, Tsang said, ultimately accepted they had made a mistake and apologised to all affected residents, offering to put them up in hotels.

However, he said they decided to come back home on later flights they paid for themselves.

Authorities are still making arrangements for a third chartered plane to bring back around 40 other Diamond Princess passengers were did have close contact with coronavirus patients.

Sixty-six Hong Kong people who had been on the ship are confirmed to be infected, and are being treated in Japanese hospitals.

The confusing arrangements come amid broad criticism of Japan’s handling of the entire quarantine and repatriation process.

After the two-weeks of quarantine during which passengers and crew were forced to stay on the ship, more than 630 were confirmed to have contracted the Covid-19 virus. Two former passengers have died.

Two Australians have also come down with the illness after returning to their home country, despite testing negative for the virus in Japan.

Last updated: 2020-02-22 HKT 02:44