Taipei, Feb. 18 (CNA) The 24 Taiwan nationals aboard the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship quarantined in Japan's Yokohama Harbor amid COVID-19 coronavirus fears, will have to take a government chartered flight and undergo quarantine if they want to return to Taiwan, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said Tuesday.
At a press conference, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said the CECC has decided to label the ship a "location with COVID-19 cases," given the rising number of cases on board, including four Taiwanese who have tested positive for the virus.
According to the Japanese authorities, 1,723 people aboard the Diamond Princess had been tested for the virus as of Tuesday, of whom 445 have tested positive for the virus, including 192 who experienced no symptoms.
The ship, which had some 3,100 people aboard as of Monday, has been quarantined in the harbor since Feb. 4 after it emerged on Feb. 2 that a passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong was later diagnosed with the virus.
The CECC announcement comes amid growing uncertainty over how and when the repatriation process will be carried out.
Although the ship's quarantine is set to be lifted on Wednesday, two of the Taiwanese passengers have not yet been tested for coronavirus, prompting the Taiwan government to delay a planned evacuation flight by two to three days, the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECO) in Japan said earlier Tuesday.
In addition, the Taiwanese aboard the ship have been using a Line group set up by TECO to express a range of concerns about the return flight, including the safety of the evacuation, the timing and the possibility of making other travel arrangements, the representative office said.
In line with the CECC's designation, however, all the Taiwan nationals aboard the ship who want to return will be required to take a charter flight arranged by the CECC and submit to subsequent quarantine regulations, said Chou Jih-haw (周志浩), director-general of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Upon landing, the evacuees will be taken for health evaluations and further testing, Chou said.
Those who test positive for the virus will receive treatment while under medical quarantine, while those who test negative will be quarantined at designated facilities, as they meet the condition of having had known contact with people infected with COVID-19, he said.
In terms of the exact date for the charter flight, the health minister said the CECC is still conferring with the Japanese authorities but will respect suggested arrangements by the Japanese side, given the gravity of the task.
According to the CECC, the 24 Taiwanese aboard the Diamond Princess include 22 passengers and two crew members. Of the four who have been diagnosed with the virus, all are passengers, but only two had experienced symptoms as of Tuesday.