The U.S. Embassy in Japan said U.S. citizens aboard the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess have the option to fly back to the United States as early as tonight [Japan time].
If Americans choose to fly back, they’ll be taken to base camps at Travis Air Force Base in California or Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Texas for another two-week quarantine.
Health officials said there are approximately 400 Americans on the ship.
An Ewa Beach couple, Eric and Debbie Pagan, thought they were coming home to Honolulu on Wednesday after being under quarantine for 11 days now.
“We were so close,” said Eric Pagan. “We were looking forward to getting off the ship Wednesday and heading to the airport and getting on Delta, and a 10-hour flight and returning back to the airport in Honolulu.”
They said they got the e-mail from the US Embassy overnight recommending that they get off the ship and chartered to one of two existing federal sites.
“It’s an option, but you’re taking a risk,” said Debbie Pagan. “It seems they wanted to sound like you’re better off taking the charter flight rather than staying in Japan.”
They said the charter flights are expected to arrive in Japan tonight.
“We don’t know where we’re heading, we find out before we board what base we are heading for,” explained Eric Pagan.
The couple said it makes it more difficult to figure out flights home from there. They were told they would have to figure out their own way back to Honolulu after the additional 14-day quarantine.
The couple asked officials what would happen if they stayed the remaining three days on the ship and took their scheduled flight back home on Wednesday.
Debbie explained that she was told a red flag would be put on all American passports and they would not be able to enter the United States.
“If you stay here it seems like you won’t be able to enter the U.S.—the earliest you can try and enter is March 4,” Debbie said.
The U.S. said all passengers will be screened before leaving the ship, and then monitored and evaluated every step of the way until they arrive on base.
“It’s devastating,” said Debbie. “Yeah, we were surprised to hear that because the original news we heard was we wouldn’t have to go through 14 more days,” said Eric.
In all, the Pagan’s will go through 28 days of quarantine before coming back to Honolulu.
The Pagan’s said the new quarantine will begin once they land on the base.
The couple said they understand the additional quarantine is for the safety of Americans.