Mumbai: Relief is finally at hand for the nearly 138 Indians, including crew and six Indian passengers quarantined on board the Diamond Princess cruiseliner, docked at Yokohama off the coast of Japan for over three weeks now.
The Indian government is going to send a chartered plane to bring them back home in the next 48 hours. For the last 23 days, passengers have been in proximity to infected patients.
Health officials said the Indian embassy in Japan has issued an advisory and once these passengers return to India they will again be quarantined at the hospital.
As per the advisory, the flight has been tentatively scheduled for February 26 and disembarkation will begin around 2pm. Only those passengers who did not test positive for the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test conducted by the Japanese authorities and passengers who have submitted a consent form to return India before the expiry of the mandatory Japanese quarantine requirement will be allowed to board the chartered plane, the advisory specifies.
According to a source, the government is likely to spend an estimated Rs 40 crore to bring back Indians quarantined on the cruiseliner. "The flight ticket costs around Rs 30,000 per person, which works out to a total of Rs 40-50 lakh to bring back 138 people to India. So, why is the government spending Rs 40 crore when it can be done for a few lakhs of rupees," the source wondered.
Dinesh Thakkar, the father of Sonali, a security officer on the ship who has been in isolation since February 10, said, "It has been almost 23 days since my daughter has been near infected people on the cruiseliner.
This clearly shows the government was least interested in bringing back Indians until the conclusion of US President Donald Trump's visit. This chartered flight should have been arranged much earlier."
Thakkar further said after all the Indians have returned, they will again have to undergo tests in India, for which they will be quarantined again.
All Indian cruiseliner passengers and crew will have to undergo compulsory medical check-ups by an Indian medical team before they can disembark from the cruise ship and undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine after landing in India, he said.
Meanhwile, two more Indian crew members have tested positive for COVID-19, raising the total to 14, according to the Indian embassy, but all were responding positively to the treatment. There is at least one female crew member who has tested positive from Maharashtra.
PCR test results announced, from the samples collected earlier, include two Indian crew members on board Diamond Princess, testing positive for COVID-19. The total number of crew members tested positive so far is 14 - responding well to treatment, said an embassy tweet.