Duque: Evacuation of Filipino crew on board virus-hit cruise ship possible

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 16) — The Philippines is considering evacuating Filipino crew on board the Diamond Princess, which was quarantined off the waters of Japan when hundreds of passengers aboard tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said Sunday preliminary talks have been conducted with Magsaysay Maritime Corporation, the company handling the Filipino crew on the ship.

“There’s that big possibility na they will be evacuated,” Duque told CNN Philippines’ Newsroom Weekend.

He said this will be discussed during the meeting of the inter-agency task force on emerging infectious diseases on Tuesday. Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Ed Mendez said the task force will meet Monday.

The United States, Canada and Italy are arranging evacuations of its citizens on the ship. The semi-autonomous Chinese city of Hong Kong is also arranging a chartered flight to bring back its residents on the ship home.

Australia, meanwhile, is “examining options” in assisting citizens on the cruise ship.

Eleven of the 538 Filipinos on the cruise ship have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, which has killed 1,669 and infected 69,000 worldwide.

The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare announced Sunday that the total number of people infected with the virus on the ship has risen to 356.

All those who will remain on board will begin to be tested for the virus on February 18 and will get their results in three days. Staggered disembarkations are due to begin on February 21.

Lifting of Macau travel ban, quarantine exemptions sought

Duque said the task force will also be discussing whether to lift the travel ban to and from Macau, a special administrative region of China.

“That will also be taken into consideration after a risk assessment,” he said. “And the result of the risk assessment will be taken up to support any consideration for the travel ban to Macau.”

The Health Secretary also said that they will be discussing the Transportation Department’s request for pilots and airline crew to be exempted from being subjected to a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

“If they are going to be quarantined each time, they will possibly have no more pilots to operate or to fly the plane,” Duque said.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Tristan Nodalo contributed to this report.