19 Feb 2020

Coronavirus: Quarantined cruise ship passengers set for NZ return

12:26 pm on 19 February 2020

Two New Zealanders in hospital in Japan with the Covid-19 coronavirus are recovering well, authorities say, as eight others on the quarantined ship they were on prepare to return to Aotearoa.

Passenger patients on board the Princess Diamond,  who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus are carried to an ambulance at the Yokohama port.

Photo: AFP

New Zealanders on board the cruise liner are due to leave Japan late Wednesday night on an Australian evacuation flight to Darwin.

Of the 14 New Zealanders originally on the ship, two remain in hospital in Japan and a family member, who is not unwell, is with them.

A flight to Darwin organised by Australian authorities will carry eight of the New Zealanders, who will then be brought to Auckland on a flight arranged by New Zealand before being transferred to quarantine at the Whangaparāoa base.

Of the remaining three New Zealanders, two have said they will stay outside New Zealand for the 14-day quarantine period, while one was based overseas and would not be travelling here, the Ministry of Health said.

Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield told Morning Report the group from the Diamond Princess were at higher risk of contracting the disease than people evacuated from Wuhan, because coronavirus cases were continuing to be detected among passengers.

A total 542 people from on board the ship have tested positive for Covid-19 coronavirus since it was placed into a quarantine off the coast of Yokohama, Japan, two weeks ago.

Bloomfield said the eight New Zealanders evacuated from the ship would be checked before departing, and would be taken to hospital in Japan if they were found to be ill. A St John paramedic would be on the flight picking up the group from Darwin.

"Everyone is going to have to be well and non-symptomatic before they get on the flight," he said.

"Once they get back we'll be taking the same precautions we took with the Wuhan group and ... they will be checked every day by a nurse and temperature taken."

The two New Zealanders in hospital with the virus in Japan were recovering well, he said.

"Our Director of Public Health spoke with them yesterday and they are in fine fettle, and just thinking about what arrangements they may want to make about what they do once they're discharged from hospital.

He said the pair would not need to go into quarantine on their return to New Zealand.

"Because they have had the infection they'll be immune to it and they won't be infectious either."

NZers return from cruise ship in Cambodia

Five of the New Zealand passengers from a cruise ship in Cambodia have returned to New Zealand and others are trying to get flights back.

The Westerdam docked in Cambodia last week after being turned away at five other ports. An American woman tested positive for the virus at the weekend after a special flight chartered by the cruise line reached Malaysia.

Bloomfield said the Ministry of Health was in touch with the New Zealanders who were on board, and consulate staff in Phnom Penh were working with passengers having difficulty getting flights out.

"There is a family group of them that are back in New Zealand. We're already in touch with them," Bloomfield said.

They were being checked and would be tested if they were symptomatic, he said.

"Otherwise, we'll advise them to stay in self-isolation."

"There is a group that is Cambodia that actually were trying to return to New Zealand yesterday but were having some challenges getting flights, so local consulate staff are working with them."

Rather than any quarantine measures, the ministry would recommend all 16 go into self-isolation when they returned to New Zealand.

"It's a different situation from one of the Diamond Princess where there is a very high rate of infection," Bloomfield said.

"That wasn't the case, and these people have all disembarked the ship, so there won't be any ongoing transmission between them."

Hundreds of people from the ship had been tested as they disembarked and no other infections were confirmed.

"We have got the passenger manifest for everybody who was on that ship and our border authorities have got the names and got a flag on them if any of them - whether Kiwis or not - come into the country, so we can assess them as they come in."

New Zealand is reviewing its coronavirus border measures every 48 hours and they would be lifted when it was reasonable to do so, Bloomfield said.

- RNZ / Reuters

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs