Nearly 80 Canadian Diamond Princess passengers in Japan who tested negative for the coronavirus chose not to return to Canada on a chartered flight Friday despite being strongly urged to do so by the federal government.
Some have decided to fly back to Canada on commercial flights, while others will continue on their travels to other destinations, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne told reporters in Montreal.
Others have stayed behind in Japan to be beside their loves ones who have fallen ill from the potentially lethal coronavirus.
Of the 256 Canadian passengers who were quarantined on the cruise ship, 48 contracted the virus known as SARS-CoV-2.
At 2 a.m. Friday, 129 Canadians and their companions arrived at the Canadian Forces Base in Trenton, Ont., where they were processed before being bused to the NAV Canada Training Institute in Cornwall for a 14-day quarantine.
That left 79 Canadian Diamond Princess passengers who chose not to board the chartered plane even though they were alerted they might find it difficult to get a commercial flight back to Canada or run into problems finding accommodations. There is also the potential concern some of the 79 Canadians might be asymptomatic carriers of the virus.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, warned all 79 Canadians will be quarantined once they return to the country. They will not be given the option of returning home to self-isolate for 14 days, as has been the case for Canadians travelling back from the Chinese province of Hubei, the main region of the coronavirus epidemic.
“Upon their entry into Canada, they will be subjected to Quarantine Act,” Tam said.
It’s not clear whether they will be quarantined in the Canadian Forces Base in Trenton, Ont., where the Wuhan evacuees spent time; in Cornwall, where the Diamond Princess passengers are now being confined; or another location.
“It depends on where they enter Canada,” Tam added.
Tam was also unable to specify at what risk of infection those Canadians remaining in Japan might be. What is known is the outbreak aboard the Diamond Princess infected nearly one out of five people, and the number of infections rose until the last day of the Japanese quarantine.
Tam reiterated the risk of an outbreak in Canada remains low, with a total of nine Canadians infected with the coronavirus. However, she noted British Columbia reported its sixth case on Thursday of a woman who had returned from Iran recently.
“The B.C. report is important because Iran only began recently reporting its first cases, and any imported cases linked to Iran could be an indicator that there is more widespread transmission than we know about,” she explained. “Importantly, it is a reminder that the novel coronavirus is a global issue and there is the possibility that the virus could be present in countries that may not have the capacity to detect or contain the virus.”
In Montreal, Champagne said the 48 Canadians who have fallen ill from COVID-19, the diseased caused by the coronavirus, are being treated in hospitals in Yokohama and Tokyo, but was unable to give an update on their status.