A charter plane carrying 106 passengers from the coronavirus-hit cruise ship quarantined in Japan has arrived in Hong Kong. The first Cathay Pacific plane landed at 8:50am on Thursday, with passengers facing another two weeks of quarantine in Hong Kong.

There were 621 confirmed cases of the SARS-like disease aboard the Diamond Princess. Currently docked in Yokohama, the ship was carrying 3,700 passengers – 330 of whom were Hong Kong residents.

It also emerged on Thursday that a male and female passenger – both of unspecified nationality and in their 80s, have died according to Japanese media citing a government source.

First detected in Hubei, China, more than 75,000 people globally have been infected with Covid-19, whilst over 2,100 have died from the disease.

Secretary for Security John Lee told the press on Wednesday that over 200 passengers indicated that they would be taking the government-chartered flights, yet not all of them had completed tests. On Thursday, 55 people with confirmed cases, and 33 people who had close contact with infected persons, had been asked by Tokyo to remain quarantined on land in Japan.

With regards to 16 passengers who refused to board the arranged flight, Lee told the press: “We are endeavouring to persuade them. Some of them changed their mind overnight. We hope all Hong Kong residents would eventually come home on our chartered flights.”

“Come, let’s go home,” a line reads in the rear of a shuttle bus transporting passengers from the cruise ship to the airport in Japan. Photo: Facebook.

China’s Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong posted an image on Facebook of a bus transporting passengers from Yokohama port to Haneda International Airport. A banner on the front read: “Come, let’s go home” in simplified Chinese.

The ship originally arrived in Yokohama, Japan on February 2 but passengers were prohibited by the authorities from disembarking. An 80-year-old man from Hong Kong who was later diagnosed with the virus was aboard the ship during an earlier voyage. All passengers and crew immediately entered into a mandatory 14-day quarantine which ended on Wednesday after Japan’s Ministry of Health finished tests – those who tested negative were allowed to disembark.

Chun Yeung Estate awaiting cruise ship passengers. Photo: video screenshot from RTHK.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the plan to send charter flights last Friday. She added on Tuesday that a team of 66 health and immigration officers, together with two planes with a capacity of 438 each, would be involved in the operation.

Housing estate row

Upon landing, passengers with no displayable symptoms of the virus were sent to the newly-built Chun Yeung Estate in Fo Tan for another 14-day quarantine.

Hundreds of residents, together with those were scheduled to move into the estate, demonstrated last Saturday against the plan. Lam told the press on Tuesday that converting Chun Yeung Estate into a quarantine centre was necessary: “We have no back-up plan.”

However, Lam added that the authorities were actively looking for vacant land for new quarantine centres and designated clinics, including Disneyland Phase 2.

Carrie Lam visits the quarantine centre at Chun Yeung Estate. Photo: news.gov.hk.

Another public housing estate in Fanling which was scheduled to be converted into a quarantine centre was damaged with petrol bombs during a protest against the plan on January 26.

A second plane carrying Diamond Princess passengers is set to arrive in Hong Kong on Thursday afternoon.

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Rachel Wong

Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.