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Coronavirus: Evacuation flight for Britons on Diamond Princess due to land

A plane carrying Britons who had been trapped on a coronavirus-hit cruise ship in Japan is on its way to the UK, the Foreign Office has said.

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

The Foreign Office said 32 British and European passengers were on board an evacuation flight, along with medical staff and British government officials.

The plane is due to land in the UK on Saturday morning.

It took off from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport late on Friday evening (GMT).

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

The passengers are expected to land at Boscombe Down, a Ministry of Defence base in Wiltshire, before spending 14 days in quarantine at Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral – where two groups of people travelling from China have previously stayed.

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 staff such as nurses and paramedics.

The health service is planning to expand this 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.

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 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 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.

The couple criticised conditions at the new hospital, saying David and Sally only had a small basin and paper towels to clean themselves with no wi-fi access, and “neither of them can eat the food”.

Mr Abel said his father’s “exact words” to him were: “‘This has to stop now, we can’t take any more of this, it’s like a prison.”

Steve Abel’s wife Roberta said she is “incredibly angry” with the Foreign Office’s handling of David and Sally’s case.

She claimed after twice phoning the Foreign Office to get updates on the couple’s location and health, she received a call back about seven hours later and was told they had spoken to her father-in-law and that he “may or may not be going on a ventilator”.

Conceding that the Foreign Office has to deal with multiple parties and the time difference, Roberta added: “…You’re dealing with people whose parents are stuck in a country where English isn’t their first language, their parents are scared, we don’t know what’s happening to them, we don’t know if they’re getting the right treatment, we didn’t even know where they were this morning.”

The couple said they are in “massive fight mode” and are “ready” to fly to Japan to bring David and Sally home, if it comes to it.

In the meantime, they are pushing for David and Sally to be allowed to fly back to the UK via air ambulance, so they can be “looked after properly”.

The Foreign Office has been contacted for a response to the claims.

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.

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 75,567 cases including 2,239 deaths from Covid-19, the illness brought on by coronavirus.

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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BBC News – Health

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