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Filipino crew leave Diamond Princess; others remain on board

Filipino crew leave Diamond Princess; others remain on board
Ana P Santos 26 Feb 2020

(see video here:

All Filipino crew not infected by the virus arrive home but hundreds of workers from other countries remain on ship.

Manila, Philippines - The repatriation of 445 Filipino crew members from the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan was completed on Wednesday morning, ending more than three weeks of agony for almost half the staff on board the coronavirus-stricken ship, even as hundreds of workers from other countries were left behind.

The Filipino crew members, accompanied by government officials, arrived on two chartered flights and landed at the Clark Air Base about 65 kilometres (40 miles) northwest of the capital, Manila.

The crew will begin a 14-day quarantine period at a sports complex outside Manila, under the close monitoring of healthcare workers. The flight crew and government officials who were part of the repatriation team will also undergo the same procedure.

A total of 80 Filipino crew members were infected with the coronavirus and left behind in Japan to finish their treatment.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported 634 infections and two deaths among those on board the luxury liner, representing one of the largest concentrations of COVID-19 cases outside China.

An estimated 2,670 passengers and 1,100 crew members were forced into quarantine beginning on February 3, after it was discovered that a passenger who had disembarked more than a week before had tested positive for the coronavirus.

All the passengers were allowed off the ship last week, leaving the workers behind.

The crew, comprised mostly of Filipinos, Indians and Indonesian nationals, worked tirelessly to make passengers comfortable while they were confined in their cabins.

Throughout the quarantine period, and often with limited protective gear, they cooked and served passengers meals, washed their clothes and carried out requests that passengers posted on their cabin doors.
Begging for help

On Wednesday, the Indian government announced that a chartered flight was heading to Japan to bring back 138 of its nationals working on the ship. Some 14 others who were infected will continue their treatment in Japanese hospitals.

For weeks, some of the crew members have been posting videos online begging their governments to rescue them.

Meanwhile, 69 Indonesian crew members are still waiting for a response from their government.

In a video released on Monday, the Indonesian staff were seen pleading with President Joko Widodo to evacuate them from the ship saying that they were "being killed slowly."

But the Jakarta Post reported on Wednesday that the government was in "apparently no rush" to evacuate their nationals, fearing that they could spread the virus when they return home.

The delay in the repatriation compounded the fear among the crew and their family members, who were waiting to be reunited with their loved ones.
Occupational hazard

A Filipino woman, whose husband worked in the ship's housekeeping department, told Al Jazeera that his job meant coming into contact with the garments, bedsheets and towels used by passengers who may have been infected. In the days immediately following the announcement of the quarantine period, the crew did not have either gloves or masks.

Other reports said that the quarantine was loosely enforced, with passengers freely roaming about the ship and mixing with other guests during buffet meals.

Another crew member with the housekeeping department, who spoke to Al Jazeera on the condition of anonymity, said his roommate had already been infected with the coronavirus.