First batch of Diamond Princess passengers arrive in Hong Kong to face further quarantine

HONG KONG (Reuters) - More than 100 Hong Kong residents who were quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise in Japan for over two weeks landed on Thursday morning in the Asian financial hub, where they will face a further 14 days of quarantine.

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Arriving on a chartered Cathay Pacific aircraft, the 106 passengers were part of a first batch of at least two government arranged flights to bring back hundreds of remaining citizens.

Authorities said 55 of the 364 Hong Kong residents on the ship were infected with the coronavirus. They will remain in Japan along with 33 other citizens who have been in close contact with them.

The British-flagged Diamond Princess arrived in Yokohama, near Tokyo, on Feb 3. with about 3,700 people onboard after the virus was diagnosed in a man who disembarked last month in Hong Kong. Over 600 passengers have tested positive for the virus, SARS-CoV-2, so far.

Passengers began disembarking on Wednesday from the ship, which is operated by Carnival Corp. The process will be finished by Friday, Japanese public broadcaster NHK said.

Passengers arriving in Hong Kong are being taken straight into quarantine at a new public housing estate in the city’s New Territories region.

Hundreds of demonstrators rallied over the weekend against plans to turn some buildings into quarantine centers. Many said they were frustrated as they had waited years to move into the Chun Yeung estate where the cruise passengers will be housed.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has urged Hong Kongers to accept the government’s quarantine plans.

Hong Kong has 65 confirmed cases of the virus and recorded its second death from the outbreak this week.

In addition to the opposition to quarantine centers, many residents have been calling on Lam to shut the entire border with mainland China. Some medical workers have been on strike to press that demand.

Lam has said closing the border would be impractical, inappropriate and discriminatory.

Reporting by Donny Kwok and Pak Yiu; Writing by Farah Master; Editing by Gerry Doyle