MANILA (UPDATE)—The Department of Health on Saturday announced it was moving to "early next week" the repatriation of Filipinos aboard coronavirus-stricken Diamond Princess Cruise docked in Japan to complete laboratory tests and comply with quarantine protocols.
In a statement, the DOH said the decision was reached to safeguard the health and safety of some 400 Filipino crew members on the ship.
They were supposed to be brought back home Sunday, Feb. 23.
"IATF-EID (The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Disease) is adjusting the schedule out of an abundance of caution with a view to safeguarding the health and safety of our OFs (overseas Filipinos) onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship," the DOH said.
"This is to allow the Japanese health authorities to complete the laboratory testing the 400-plus Filipino crew members aboard the ship and comply with the established Japanese quarantine protocols."
The health department said the Japanese government gave the assurance that the "appropriate health services are being provided" to those on board.
It added that it was "working closely" with the Japanese health and foreign ministry to complete the quarantine protocols.
"Our Tokyo Embassy is working closely with the Japanese health and foreign ministry to complete the quarantine protocols for the Philippine Government to repatriate our Filipino crew members as soon as possible," it said.
More than 630 ship passengers of various nationalities have been confirmed to have contracted the disease, authorities earlier said. As of Friday, the DOH said the number of Filipinos infected onboard the cruise ship has risen to 52.
The ship, with around 3,200 people on board, has been quarantined in Yokohama since Feb. 3 after a man, who disembarked in Hong Kong before the ship traveled to Japan, was diagnosed with the virus.
In a statement, Magsaysay Maritime Corp., the agency of the Filipino crew, said it held an orientation with their members who sought to be repatriated, and were debriefed on the plans leading up to the repatriation.
"The orientation also served as a venue for the families to consult and discuss their issues and concerns on the employment status and repatriation of their loved ones," they said in a statement.
The orientation was also live-streamed to its regional branches in Visayas and Mindanao for those who can't make it to the orientation in Luzon.
The crew are expected to stay at a quarantine facility and will be fully compensated. They will also receive "two months of paid time."
Magsaysay also said the crew members will not need to spend for their quarantine and repatriation.
Several countries with citizens on board have either repatriated or taken steps to bring their citizens back home.
COVID-19, a new strain of coronavirus that has mostly affected China, has infected more than 75,000 people and killed more than 2,200. — With a report from Reuters