TOKYO — Americans Cheryl and Paul Molesky decided to trade one coronavirus quarantine for another.
The couple from Syracuse, New York, made the decision to cut short a 14-day quarantine on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in the port of Yokohama, near Tokyo, to be flown back to the United States. But they knew that if they were allowed to leave the ship, they'd have to spend another two-week quarantine period at a U.S. military facility to make sure they don't have the new virus that's been sweeping across Asia.
About 380 Americans were on the cruise ship. The Japanese defense ministry said around 300 of them had been making plans to leave. Some Americans disembarked Sunday night and boarded buses to take them to Tokyo's Haneda Airport. The U.S. State Department said later that two charter flights carrying cruise ship passengers had departed Tokyo and were on their way to the United States.
Canada, Hong Kong and Italy said they were planning similar flights of passengers.
The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said Washington was evacuating the Americans because the passengers and crew members on board the Diamond Princess were at a high risk of exposure to the virus.
The Americans were being flown to Travis Air Force Base in California and Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. After arriving in the U.S., all of the passengers will need to go through another 14 days of quarantine — meaning they will have been under quarantine for a total of nearly four weeks. Other governments, including Canada and Hong Kong, also will require the passengers to undergo a second 14-day quarantine.
"We are glad to be going home,” Cheryl Molesky told NHK TV in Japan. “It’s just a little bit disappointing that we’ll have to go through quarantine again, and we will probably not be as comfortable as the Diamond Princess, possibly.”
“The biggest challenge has been the uncertainty,” she added.
Molesky also said she was getting concerned about the rising number of patients on the ship.
"It’s a little bit scary with the numbers going up of the people being taken off the ship for the (virus), so I think its time to go. I think its time to cut our losses and take off," she said.
Japan on Sunday announced another 70 infections on the Diamond Princess, raising the ship's total number of cases to 355. Overall, Japan has 413 confirmed cases of the virus, including one death.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said Sunday on CBS' “Face the Nation,” that 40 Americans have gotten infected, and those showing symptoms will not be able to get on the evacuation plane.
“If people on the plane start to develop symptoms, they'll be segregated within the plane,” Fauci said, adding that the additional 14-day quarantine is because of the “degree of transmissibility on that cruise ship is essentially akin to being in a hot spot.”
He added that an infected person who shows minimal symptoms could still pass the virus to someone else.
Asked how they felt about the additional 14-day quarantine in the United States, Cheryl Molesky sighed, and her husband said, “If we have to go through that, we will go through that.” The couple spoke to the NKH TV before passengers were allowed off the ship, and it wasn't immediately known if they were able to board the flight to the U.S.
Everyone was expected to receive a checkup before being allowed on the chartered flight, and the embassy said that those who showed symptoms of sickness would not be permitted to board the plane. American passengers who have already tested positive for the virus will not be among those evacuated on the flights.
Some American passengers said they would pass up the opportunity to take a flight to the U.S. because of the additional quarantine. There also was concern about being on a long flight with other passengers who may be infected or in an incubation period.
One of the Americans, Matthew Smith, said in a tweet Sunday that he saw a passenger with no face mask talking at close quarters with another passenger. He said he and his wife scurried away. "If there are secondary infections on board, this is why. ... And you wanted me to get on a bus with her?” he said.
He said the American health officials who visited their room was apparently surprised that the couple had decided to stay. They wished the couple luck, and Smith said he told them, “Thanks, but we’re fine.”