More Filipinos infected with coronavirus on cruise ship as PH plans for evacuation

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 17) — The number of Filipinos who tested positive for the coronavirus on board a cruise ship has risen to a total of 27, the Foreign Affairs Department said on Monday.

It said the 16 additional cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) involving Filipino crew members were confirmed on February 15.

Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Monday said the evacuation plans for the 531 crew members and 7 Filipino passengers on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship have begun. He added the Filipinos on board the vessel, which has been quarantined off the waters of Japan after at least 356 passengers aboard tested positive for the novel coronavirus, will decide if they want to alight.

"The Embassy is in close coordination with the relevant Philippine and Japanese government agencies, and representatives of the World Health Organization and Princess Cruises to ensure that the needs of the Filipino crew and passengers are met and to facilitate their return to the Philippines," DFA said in a statement.

The Philippine government is ironing out the details for the evacuation. Duque said they are still weighing where to quarantine the evacuated passengers.

Health Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said all evacuated passengers have to undergo another quarantine in the Philippines. She said the Japan Embassy requested for the repatriation of the Filipinos on the cruise ship once the quarantine period is over. 

US started evacuating its citizens on Sunday (Philippine time), while Hong Kong, Italy, and Canada have begun planning on how to get their citizens out of the coronavirus-hit ship. 

The Japanese Health Ministry announced that all crew and passengers onboard will be tested starting Monday, so that test results will be available by the time the ship’s quarantine period ends. Staggered disembarkations are due to begin on February 21.

The global death toll now stands at 1,770, with the vast majority of those deaths in mainland China. There have been more than 71,204 cases of the virus recorded worldwide.