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Australia Prepares To Rescue Citizens From Virus-Hit Cruise Ship

Buses carrying passengers from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship leave a port in Yokohama, near Tokyo, Japan.

Australia preparing to rescue citizens from virus-hit cruise liner in Japan.

Australia is preparing to evacuate more than 200 of its citizens from the coronavirus-hit cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, in Yokohama, Japan. They will face two weeks in isolation on their return home. Also, the first group of Australian coronavirus evacuees from the Chinese city, Wuhan, has been released from quarantine.

The Diamond Princess has been in quarantine since February 3. Onboard the cruise liner have been about 3,700 passengers and crew, including dozens of Australian tourists.

The ship has more than 450 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus, including several Australians. It is the largest cluster of infections outside China, where the virus was first reported.

Australian passengers must decide Tuesday if they will take up their government's offer of an evacuation flight out of Japan. Authorities in Canberra are planning to fly them home on Wednesday. They will all go into isolation for 14 days, in addition to the time they have already spent confined on the Diamond Princess.

In a recorded message to passengers, Australia’s chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, said such precautions were essential.

“There is evidence of ongoing further infections in the ship, in the crew and in some passengers. Even though we think some of you probably have been well quarantined there is uncertainty about whether some of you may be incubating the virus, and if you came back into the Australian community you may expose your family or other members of the community to this infection,” Murphy said.

Two planes carrying hundreds of U.S. citizens from the cruise ship in Japan have arrived back home, and will face 14 days in isolation. However, some American travelers have refused to be evacuated, preferring to wait until the ship’s official quarantine comes to an end on February 19.

The first group of Australian coronavirus evacuees from the coronavirus epicenter at Wuhan, China, has been released from quarantine Monday from Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean. More than 200 Australians were flown home, while other evacuees remain in isolation at a former miners’ camp near the city of Darwin.

There are currently 15 cases of the disease in Australia. Health officials say eight patients are reported to have recovered, while the other seven are in a stable condition.