MANILA - The Philippines will bring home hundreds of Filipino crew members of a quarantined cruise ship moored off Japan, the country's labor minister said Sunday.
"Merong report to that effect na, as early as bago ako umalis, meron nang repatriation process na ginagawa para maiuwi iyong ating 500-plus na Filipino crew members," Silvestre Bello III told radio DZMM.
("There was already a report to that effect, as early as before I left, that there is already a repatriation process being done to bring home our 500-plus Filipino crew members.")
"Ang alam ko, i-uuwi na. Hindi ko lang alam kung ano exact date," he added.
("What I know is, they will be brought home already. I just don't know the exact date.")
Bello's remarks came as Japanese health minister Katsunobu Kato said Sunday that the number of new-coronavirus infections among passengers and crew from the Diamond Princess, the cruise ship quarantined near Tokyo, has risen by 70 to 355.
Of the 70, 38 did not show symptoms such as fever and coughing, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said.
The ministry has so far tested a total of 1,219 people aboard the ship, which currently houses about 3,400 passengers and crew while docked at Yokohama Port.
Eleven Filipino crew members of the luxury ship were confirmed to have contracted the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), as of Thursday. A Filipino crew member of the ship was the first known case of a Filipino infected with COVID-19.
Bello said he has coordinated with the agency of the Filipino crew members, on the request of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, for their possible quarantine facility upon return.
The crew, Bello said, continue to receive pay while under quarantine, and will also get the "usual reintegration" assistance from government.
The ship has been placed on isolation since Feb. 3 after a passenger, who disembarked in Hong Kong, was found to be infected with the virus.
Passengers are expected to stay until Feb. 19, 14 days after the isolation period began.
Kato, the Japanese health minister, issued an update on the ship's COVID-19 infection tally on an NHK program, as U.S. government-chartered aircraft were set to arrive in Japan in the evening to bring home approximately 400 U.S. citizens aboard the ship.
The Japan Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said it has been focusing so far on testing people aged 70 and older and will focus on testing those younger than 70 from around Sunday.
If people test negative and have no health problems, they will be allowed to disembark when the quarantine period ends Wednesday.
In Beijing, authorities said Sunday the death toll in the coronavirus outbreak, which originated in the central city of Wuhan, has risen 142 to 1,665 in mainland China.
The Chinese government also said it confirmed 2,009 new infections, bringing the total number of those infected to 68,500. -- with report from Kyodo News