Passengers have started leaving coronavirus quarantined ship Diamond Princess in a process that could take up to three days due to health checks.

A total of 74 Britons have been on board the ship, which was quarantined in the Japanese port of Yokohama on February 3 after an outbreak of the virus on board.

More than 540 confirmed cases of infection have been confirmed on board the ship which had 3,700 passengers and crew.

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The Foreign Office plans to run an evacuation flight to bring British passengers home at an unspecified day this week.

It is not clear if they will then have to spend a further period under quarantine.

However, this seems likely if it reflects action taken by other governments organising repatriation flights. The US government has already flown out than 300 of its citizens. They are being isolated on air force bases in California and Texas for 14 days.

An FCO spokesperson said: “We are planning an evacuation flight from Tokyo to the UK as soon as possible for Britons who are on the Diamond Princess.

“We hope the flight will be later this week, subject to permissions from the Japanese authorities.

“At 7am local time on Wednesday, the Diamond Princess cruise operator and Japanese authorities allowed passengers to disembark from the cruise ship.

“However, there is a chance that people who disembark will not be able to join the evacuation flight. 

“We have the utmost concern for the affected Britons and strongly encourage them to register for the evacuation flight.”

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Princess Cruises confirmed that the embassies of Canada, Australia and Hong Kong are co-ordinating the collection and transport of their respective guests and crew via charter flights. A flight to Canada has been arranged for Friday.

“Based on information provided by the embassies directly to their citizens, they will also require an additional 14 days of quarantine upon arrival in their country of origin,” the line added.

“A negative COVID-19 (coronavirus) test following this quarantine will be required before being allowed to travel to their final destination.

“We expect to receive confirmation of the exact numbers of those travelling on these charter flights after the flights have departed.”

The disembarkation process for those not taking government repatriation flights started today.

“The disembark process will be undertaken over several consecutive days, since they will be tested, and the testing and results require two to three days to complete,” the line said.

“A certificate that indicates a negative COVID-19 test result is expected to be granted by Japanese health authorities to exit the ship.”

Princess Cruises president Jan Swartz is in Japan with other senior staff supporting response operations and preparing for the disembarkation process.

“Working in co-ordination with the Japanese Ministry of Health, Princess Cruises will be monitoring the progress of guests who have contracted COVID-19 and will be offering travel assistance to these individuals upon their recovery and delivery of a heath certificate by Japanese health authorities,” the line added.

The company is refunding the full cruise fare for all passengers including air travel, hotel, ground transportation, pre-paid shore excursions, gratuities and other items due to the “extraordinary circumstances” on board Diamond Princess.

Those forced to stay on the ship during the 14-day quarantine period will also receive a future cruise credit equal to the cruise fare paid for the voyage and will not be charged for any incidentals during the additional time on board.

Meanwhile, it has transpired that British couple David and Sally Abel, who have been using social media to update on their experiences on Diamond Princess, have not been moved to a hostel as they previously feared.

David Abel blamed a “massive communication error” and said they were both still on the ship. It remains unclear if they have contracted the virus. He said they both feel “really well” and has been “listened to” by the British consulate in Tokyo.