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Canadians released from coronavirus-ridden cruise ship in Japan

Canadian evacuees fly home

A planeload of Canadian evacuees who have spent weeks confined to cabins aboard a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship in Japan were expected to begin two weeks of isolation in Cornwall, Ont., Friday, unless Canada's top health official deems them healthy enough to be released.

Canadian authorities are looking closely at their experience on the Diamond Princess cruise ship as the country prepares for an upcoming tourist season with concerns about the novel coronavirus, called COVID-19, still very much in the air.

Initially, the government said the evacuees from Japan would have to spend 14 days in isolation because that is considered the typical incubation period for the virus.

But because all the passengers have been tested for the virus by Japanese authorities, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Thursday there is a chance that they will be released early from quarantine if they show no symptoms upon their return to Canada, under the discretion of Canada's top public-health doctor.

Those who were cleared to travel are to be screened again at Canadian Forces Base Trenton before they are placed in isolation at the Nav Centre in eastern Ontario.

Each passenger was given a government-issued face mask and coloured wristband before they were ushered off the ship in Yokohama to nearby Tokyo's Haneda Airport, according to a letter from government officials to the evacuees on board the ship.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public-health officer, has already released flight crew and medical personnel who escorted Canadians home from Wuhan, China, where COVID-19 was first detected, but so far all the evacuees themselves have had to serve the full quarantine period.

The Diamond Princess cruise ship has seen the largest outbreak of the virus outside China, with 634 passengers having tested positive at last count.

Hajdu said Canada will be keeping its eye on Japan's examination of how the virus was handled aboard the ship, especially as it relates to Canada's own upcoming tourist season. Measures aboard the ship seemed to do little to keep COVID-19 from spreading.

"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," Hajdu said, adding that she also has empathy for Japanese officials who had to handle the quarantine of more than 3,000 people docked off a major city.

The 47 Canadian passengers who have already tested positive for COVID-19 remain in Japan for treatment.

As for the first 213 Canadian evacuees and their families who have served out their two week quarantine at CFB Trenton, they are scheduled to be released Friday. So far, none have developed symptoms after their arrival from Wuhan, China, the centre of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The second wave of Wuhan evacuees are expected to be released next week.



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