Coronavirus: Evacuation flight for Britons on Diamond Princess lands in UK


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The evacuated passengers are travelling by coach from Wiltshire to Arrowe Park hospital in Wirral, where they will spend 14 days in quarantine

A flight carrying Britons evacuated from a coronavirus-hit cruise ship in Japan has arrived back in the UK.

On board were 30 British and two Irish passengers, who had been quarantined on the liner for 16 days.

The flight landed at Boscombe Down, an airbase in Wiltshire, after leaving Tokyo late on Friday night.

The group are travelling on coaches to Arrowe Park hospital in Wirral, where they will spend 14 days in quarantine.

They have so far tested negative for Covid-19, the illness brought on by coronavirus.

Arrowe Park Hospital was previously used to quarantine British nationals who were flown back to the UK from Wuhan last month and earlier this month.

The chief executive of Wirral Teaching Hospital NHS Trust, Janelle Holmes, said the hospital was using that experience as a “blueprint” for treating the new group.

She said: “The group of people is slightly different.

“Obviously, they have come from a cruise ship rather than from their own homes over in China, but we are working exactly the same as we did before, with the healthcare professionals and Public Health England to make sure they are safe, well managed and comfortable while they are with us.”

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The plane landed at Boscombe Down, a MoD base in Wiltshire

The evacuation flight took off from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport late on Friday evening (GMT) and landed at Boscombe Down, a Ministry of Defence base in Wiltshire, about 11:30 GMT on Saturday.

In a statement issued after the plane landed, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the Foreign Office had “worked hard” to get the passengers “back to the UK securely”.

“Our number one priority has consistently been the health and safety of UK nationals,” he added.

The flight had previously been delayed after the British embassy said it was “logistically complicated”.

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The plane set off from Haneda Airport, Tokyo, late on Friday evening (GMT)

Meanwhile, it has emerged the NHS is working on plans to test people for coronavirus in their own homes, if the outbreak begins to spread in the UK.

A pilot scheme has already been launched in London, where tests are being carried out by NHS nurses and paramedics.

The health service is planning to expand the scheme to other areas outside of the capital in the coming weeks.

Professor Keith Willett, the NHS strategic incident director for coronavirus, said the aim was to avoid the risk of people spreading the infection by going to their GP or A&E.

Elsewhere, Italy has reported its second death from the virus – a woman living in the northern region of Lombardy – a day after a 78-year-old man died.

Some 78 Britons were on the Diamond Princess when it was quarantined 16 days ago.

Some of the British passengers on the Diamond Princess had already been evacuated over the last week on flights to Hong Kong, organised by the Chinese authorities there, a government source has told the BBC.

Others are being treated for the virus in health facilities in Japan.

David and Sally Abel, a couple from Northamptonshire who were diagnosed with coronavirus on the cruise ship, have since been told they have pneumonia, their son said.

Appearing alongside wife Roberta, Steve Abel said in a YouTube video late on Friday evening that his father’s condition was “very serious”, while his mother has a more mild form of pneumonia.

He also said his “really distressed” parents – who had been on the cruise for their 50th wedding anniversary – called him to say they were being moved to a different hospital.

Mr Abel said: “They’ve gone from being told that they’re going to have all these wonderful treatments, and ‘we’re going to wait over the next two or three days just to see how they respond to the treatments’, and now all of a sudden they’re being told ‘we have to move you to a different hospital’.”

He said his father is so “weak” he has been using a wheelchair, and has been told he could be put on a ventilator.

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Media captionSteve Abel told BBC Breakfast his father told him “we can’t take any more of this, it’s like a prison”

The Foreign Office said the welfare of all British nationals is of the highest priority to the UK government.

They added they are working with the Japanese authorities to ensure those British nationals who are remaining in Japan for health reasons get the best possible care.

At least four UK nationals have contracted the virus on board the cruise ship, but those flying home have tested negative.

More than 620 people on board the cruise ship tested positive for the virus – the largest cluster of cases outside China.

It is understood that some British nationals are members of the ship’s crew who could be staying on board the ship.

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British passengers left the Diamond Princess by coach

Two Japanese passengers – both in their 80s and with underlying health conditions – were confirmed to have died after contracting the virus on the Diamond Princess.

The cruise liner was carrying 3,700 people when it was quarantined in Yokohama on 5 February, after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong was found to have the virus.

China has reported 76,288 cases including 2,345 deathss from Covid-19.

In the UK, a total of 5,885 people have been tested for the virus, as of 14:00 GMT on Friday. Nine people have tested positive.

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