A group of lawmakers is urging the Trump administration to evacuate more than 400 American citizens from a cruise ship quarantined off the coast of Japan due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a letter, nine House lawmakers called for the 428 US citizens aboard the Diamond Princess to be tested and evacuated to finish their quarantine in the United States, according to The Hill.
“From firsthand accounts, we are concerned about the existing level of care available on the ship, particularly to the 428 US citizens aboard, as well as the national security concerns posed by reported quarantine conditions,” wrote the lawmakers, led by Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.).
“While we understand this is a fluid situation because of the fast-moving nature of the outbreak, we are writing to strongly encourage you to test asymptomatic US citizens as soon as possible and evacuate and quarantine those who test negative for the coronavirus in a US-based facility,” they added.
Roe told Politico that he lobbied for the evacuation during a Wednesday night call with health officials that included longtime friend Arnold Hopland, a primary care doctor who is stranded aboard the ship on which over 200 passengers have been infected.
During the call, Hopland described the deteriorating medical conditions aboard the ship and warned that the crew has little medical training or ability to enforce critical quarantine measures.
“We had about an hour conversation last night on what we should do,” Roe told Politico. “Why not get them out, get them back to this country and put them in a place where we know they’re not going to be exposed to more virus?”
In an interview, Hopland called the Diamond Princess a “petri dish” and slammed Japanese authorities’ management of the situation.
“This is no quarantine — it’s just a pack of people,” he said. “The crew is scared to death … they’re frightened and they’re packed together in tight quarters, working elbow to elbow.”
The US is sending a team to evaluate the situation aboard the vessel, but federal health officials remain hesitant to go as far as evacuating the stranded Americans, Roe said.
The US Department of Health and Human Services defended its response.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “is working in close collaboration with Japanese health authorities to ensure precautions are being taken to prevent the spread of illness on the Diamond Princess cruise ship,” a spokesperson told Politico.
The CDC has deployed an expert to assist Japanese health officials, the rep said, in addition to four agency experts supporting the US Embassy in Japan.
“The US government is in contact with American passengers and crew members and is providing ongoing recommendations to help protect their health,” the spokesperson added. “CDC is constantly evaluating the situation to determine if additional action or adjustment in approach is warranted.”