Italian cruise passengers to be brought back, crew may stay

 Italy's Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio

Rome,  Italy is working to fly home dozens of its citizens quarantined aboard a coronavirus-hit cruise ship off Japan, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Monday.

“We are organising to send an Italian Air Force Boeing plane to Japan to collect the (35) Italians currently on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship anchored in Yokohama’s port,” Di Maio told reporters on the sidelines of a European Union ministerial summit in Brussels.

There were 99 new cases of coronavirus infections aboard the Diamond Princess, bringing the total to 454 confirmed cases, Japanese officials said on Monday.

One of the cases is an Italian man – the first Italian to be infected on the ship, Foreign Ministry Crisis Unit head Stefano Verrecchia told Italy’s state broadcaster Rai.

Some of the Italians on the Diamond Princess are “essential” crew members who may remain in post when their compatriots are evacuated, he said.

“Naturally, not all our citizens will be repatriated at the that time because some of the crew are understood to be crucial to the ship’s functioning and at least a few may chose to stay on board,” Verrecchia added.

He praised Japan’s authorities, who he said were “doing a noteworthy job, considering there are over 3,000 people (aboard the ship)”.

“The period of quarantine should end on February 19 and passengers should be able to be brought off the ship by February 21,” Verrecchia said.

The ship’s passengers have been largely confined to their cabins since February 5 with only brief, occasional breaks to take air on deck wearing face-masks.

The Diamond Princess is the largest cluster of cases outside China amid an outbreak that has killed 1,770 people in China and five elsewhere since mid-December.