Britons on a coronavirus-stricken ship in Japan will be evacuated “as soon as possible”, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has announced.
“We are planning an evacuation flight from Tokyo to the UK as soon as possible for Britons who are on the Diamond Princess,” the FCO spokesman said.
“We hope the flight will be later this week, subject to permissions from the Japanese authorities.”
Pressure has been mounting on the Government to evacuate Britons in light of the cramped conditions on board and the fact the number diagnosed with the virus on the ship continues to rise.
The FCO also announced some passengers had been allowed to leave the ship.
“At 0700 local time on Wednesday (10pm Tuesday, UK time), the Diamond Princess cruise operator and Japanese authorities allowed passengers to disembark from the cruise ship,” the spokesman said.
“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.”
Hundreds of passengers began leaving the Diamond Princess on Wednesday.
Some passengers said on Twitter they received health check forms asking if they had symptoms such as a headache, fever or coughing.
Passengers who tested negative for coronavirus and had no symptoms still had to have their body temperature checked before leaving.
The 14-day quarantine period is at an end for passengers who have been kept in isolation on the ship, which is docked near Yokohama.
Japan’s health minister told reporters on Tuesday all passengers still on board had been tested and had samples taken for the coronavirus illness, also known as Covid-19.
Katsunobu Kato said: “They all want to go home as early as possible, and we hope to assist them so that everyone can get home smoothly.”
Seventy-four of the ship’s passengers are British.
It comes after a British couple on board shared concerns they had tested positive for the virus.
David and Sally Abel have posted regular updates on Facebook and YouTube, pleading with the UK Government to be flown home.
In a message posted on Tuesday morning, Mr Abel said: “There is going to be a time of quiet.
“We have been proved positive and leaving for hospital soon. Blessings all xxx.”
In a follow-up post, he said: “Frankly i think this is a setup! We are NOT being taken to a hospital but a hostel. That’s where partners are sent waiting out there (sic) quarantine.”
People with the illness are being taken off the ship for treatment at hospitals in Japan.
The FCO said on Monday four Britons from the ship had been confirmed with coronavirus.
A confirmed diagnosis for Mr and Mrs Abel would take the number of British passengers testing positive to six.
Reports from Japan said there were 88 more cases on board the Diamond Princess as of Tuesday, bringing the total to 542.
On Sunday, the US chartered two planes and repatriated around 340 of its citizens from the vessel.
The cruise line said on Tuesday that both Canada and Australia would be repatriating its citizens via a chartered aircraft.
Alan Steele, a British honeymooner diagnosed with coronavirus on the Diamond Princess, said on Facebook that he had left hospital.
He said he is in a hotel in Yokohama and has been told he will need to spend two weeks in quarantine when he returns to the UK.
Meanwhile, Britons have been tested for coronavirus in Cambodia after leaving a cruise ship where an elderly woman was diagnosed with the illness, the Foreign Office has confirmed.
Passengers disembarked from the Holland America Westerdam ship on Friday and hundreds have undergone testing for the virus.
The testing is now complete, with 781 guests coming up negative, while the testing of 747 crew members will continue for the next few days.
Holland America said the results “provide the required clearance for remaining guests in Cambodia to begin their onward journey home”.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 4,916 people in total have been tested for Covid-19 in the UK, of which nine have come back positive.
The British family who contracted the virus at a French ski resort after spending time with Briton Steve Walsh – the man linked to 11 cases overall – have also been discharged from hospital, French authorities said.
The death toll from the coronavirus known as Covid-19 in mainland China rose to 2,004 on Wednesday as Chinese officials announced a further 136 deaths, up from 98 in the previous 24 hours.