The U.S. government is set to evacuate Americans quarantined on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship due to the coronavirus. Officials announced the aircraft are expected to arrive in Japan on the evening of Feb. 16.
A letter from the U.S. Embassy Tokyo was sent to passengers on the ship Friday, informing them that they'll have the opportunity to leave the ship soon.
"This is a dynamic situation. We are deeply grateful to the cruise line and government of Japan for working diligently to contain and control the spread of the illness," the U.S. letter to cruise ship passengers said. "However, to fulfill our government's responsibilities to U.S. citizens under our rules and practices, as well as to reduce the burden on the Japanese healthcare system, the U.S. government recommends, out of an abundance of caution, that U.S. citizens disembark and return to the United States for further monitoring."
Once the aircraft arrive, passengers and their belongings will be bused from the ship to the planes. There, passengers will be screened for symptoms to see if they are able to fly home or must remain in Japan.
"We are working with our Japanese partners to ensure that any symptomatic passengers receive the required care in Japan if they cannot board the flight," the letter said.
There are around 400 Americans on board the Diamond Princess.
The plane with evacuated passengers will land at Travis Air Force Base in California, with some passengers continuing to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.
Once on the ground, passengers are required to undergo to be quarantined for 14 days, officials said.
"We understand this is frustrating and an adjustment, but these measures are consistent with the careful policies we have instituted to limit the potential spread of the disease," the letter said.
If passengers on board the Diamond Princess choose not to be evacuated, the U.S. government said they would be "unable to return to the United States for a period of time."
Since the Diamond Princess arrived at the port of Yokohama in Japan on Feb. 3, at least 218 people on board have tested positive for the new coronavirus.
Meanwhile, the first coronavirus death in Europe was reported Saturday in France.
"I was informed last night of the death of the 80-year-old patient who had been hospitalized at the Bichât hospital (Paris) since Jan. 25, and who had a coronavirus pulmonary infection," French Health Minister Agnès Buzyn said at a press conference Saturday morning. "He had been hospitalized at Bichât hospital with strict isolation ... His condition had deteriorated rapidly and he had been in critical condition for several days in intensive care."
Buzyn said the victim's daughter was also admitted, but her health isn't cause for concern and she should be released soon. France, Buzyn said, has 11 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the country.
"We must prepare our health system to face a possible pandemic diffusion of the virus and, therefore a circulation of the virus on the national territory," she said.
The coronavirus, which has been declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization, has spread rapidly in the country and around the globe.
As of midnight Friday, there are 66,491 coronavirus cases in mainland China, with 2,641 new cases reported in the last day. There have also been 1,523 coronavirus-related deaths in the country.
More than 67,000 people have been infected globally.
In the U.S., there are only 15 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus.