Politics

Flight carrying Canadian cruise passengers who tested negative for coronavirus on way home

Canadian passengers from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan who have not tested positive for COVID-19 are on a charter flight that is expected to arrive in Trenton, Ont., in the wee hours of Friday morning.

Charter flight from Tokyo expected to arrive in Trenton, Ont. early Friday morning

More than 200 Canadian passengers leave quarantined Diamond Princess ship and head home to Canada. 1:29

The latest:

  • Canadians who cleared medical screening disembark after 2-week quarantine on Diamond Princess.
  • Charter flight for eligible Canadians en route to CFB Trenton in Ontario.
  • 47 Canadians among more than 630 people from the cruise ship to test positive for coronavirus.
  • Local media report that 2 Japanese passengers who tested positive have died.
  • 1 new case in B.C., bringing total in Canada to 9.
  • No one under quarantine in Trenton, Ont., has shown symptoms, health minister says.

Canadian passengers from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan who did not test positive for the coronavirus are on a charter flight that took off from Tokyo airport and is expected to arrive at CFB Trenton in Ontario in the wee hours of Friday morning. 

CFB Trenton was the destination for previous repatriation flights that brought people back from Wuhan, China — the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.

But instead of staying there, the Diamond Princess returnees will be transported to the NAV Canada Training Institute in Cornwall, Ont., where they will be placed in quarantine for up to 14 days. 

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne tweeted that the plane was "wheels up" on Thursday afternoon. 

Canadian passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship arrive to board a plane at Haneda airport in Tokyo. They are now in the air and expected to land at CFB Trenton in Ontario just after midnight Friday. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

There were 256 Canadians on the Diamond Princess, which has been docked in Yokohama since early February. Of those, 47 have tested positive for the virus, Global Affairs Canada said. Those passengers are not among those returning to Canada on the repatriation flight. 

Allan and Diana Chow, an Ontario couple who were also on the Diamond Princess, have been eager to get off the ship, which Allan previously described as a "floating jailhouse."

The pair, who have been sending photos back to their daughter in Toronto who then posts to Twitter, noted their departure from the ship on Thursday. 

Global Affairs Canada (GAC) said that if space allowed, non-Canadian immediate family of citizens and permanent residents would be allowed on the flight to allow families to stay together. It's not yet clear how many people ended up on the flight.

If people chose not to return home on the charter flight, GAC said they would have to finish the quarantine being run by health officials in Japan and follow local instructions.

"Canadians seeking to return to Canada by commercial means will be subject to the Quarantine Act upon their return, in line with a determination to be made by the Public Health Agency of Canada," the statement read, though it did not say exactly what that would mean for those who elect not to board the charter.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Health Minister Patty Hajdu said that none of the people who have been in quarantine at CFB Trenton have shown symptoms of coronavirus. Two flights brought back approximately 300 Canadians and their families evacuated from Wuhan earlier this month. 

The passengers from the first flight are completing their 14-day quarantine and due to be sent home on Friday.  

New case in Canada

The total number of coronavirus cases in Canada rose to nine on Thursday, as British Columbia's top health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, announced a woman in her 30s had been diagnosed after returning from Iran. She is the sixth person in the province believed to have COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.

As with all cases diagnosed at the provincial level, it is considered presumptive until confirmed by the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.  

Henry described the woman's infection as relatively mild, but said she has had contact with others since her return from Iran last week. Close family members are currently in isolation and being monitored by public health officials.

The woman only visited Iran during her travels. Henry said that country has recently announced five cases of coronavirus and two deaths. 

The three other coronavirus cases in Canada have been in Ontario. There have been no coronavirus deaths in Canada.  

2 Japanese passengers die

Japan reported the deaths of two elderly passengers from the Diamond Princess on Thursday, the first fatalities from aboard the ship where more than 630 cases account for the biggest cluster of infection outside China.

The two passengers, an 87-year-old man and an 84-year-old woman, both Japanese, had tested positive for the virus and been taken off the ship and hospitalized, Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported.

"Our hearts go out to the families, friends and all who are impacted by these losses," the cruise line said in a statement to CBC News. "All of us at Princess Cruises, as well as the crew of the Diamond Princess, offer our sincere condolences."

Hundreds of passengers who were cleared were able to get off the ship on Wednesday, the first batch of travellers to leave the ship after the two-week quarantine ended.

Hajdu admitted to "concern" that Japan's handling of the outbreak might have increased the spread of the virus on board the ship. 

"But I can also empathize with Japan in terms of quarantining almost 3,000 people," the health minister said. "That's also a very challenging situation." 

WATCH | Health minister on lessons learned from the Diamond Princess:

Patty Hajdu says Canada is preparing for how it would deal with an outbreak of disease during tourist season. 0:33

That situation was something for Canada to "keep our eye on as we enter into cruise season," she said, noting that the government was "making some preparations now to consider how we'll deal with our own tourist season."

The coronavirus emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, apparently in a wildlife market, and has now infected some 75,000 people and killed about 2,100.

The vast majority of cases and deaths have been in China, and more specifically Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital, but the global spread appears inexorable.

With files from Philip Ling, Sonya Velez, Jennifer Walter and Reuters