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Americans in Japan to trade one quarantine for another

Americans Cheryl and Paul Molesky are trading one coronavirus quarantine for another.

The couple from Syracuse, New York, is cutting short a 14-day quarantine on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in the port of Yokohama, near Tokyo, to be flown back to the United States. But they will have to spend another two-week quarantine period at a U.S. military facility to make sure they don't have the new virus that's been sweeping across Asia.

About 380 Americans are on the cruise ship. The Japanese defense ministry said around 300 of them were preparing Sunday night to leave on buses to take them to Tokyo's Haneda Airport. The U.S. State Department has arranged for charter flights to fly the Americans back to the United States. Canada, Hong Kong and Italy said they were planning similar flights of passengers.

An ambulance leaves a port where the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship is docked Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020, in Yokohama, near Tokyo. The U.S. says Americans aboard the quarantined ship will be flown back home on a chartered flight Sunday, but that they will face another two-week quarantine. (AP PhotoJae C. Hong)

The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said Washington was evacuating the Americans because the passengers and crew members on board the Diamond Princess were at a high risk of exposure to the virus.

The Americans will be flown to Travis Air Force Base in California, with some continuing to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. After arriving in the U.S., all of the passengers will need to go through another 14 days of quarantine — meaning they will have been under quarantine for a total of nearly four weeks.

"We are glad to be going home,” Cheryl Molesky told NHK TV in Japan. “It’s just a little bit disappointing that we’ll have to go through quarantine again, and we will probably not be as comfortable as the Diamond Princess, possibly.”

A photographer takes pictures of the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship docked at Yokohama Port, near Tokyo, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020. The U.S. says Americans aboard a quarantined ship will be flown back home on a chartered flight Sunday, but that they will face another two-week quarantine. (AP PhotoJae C. Hong)

“The biggest challenge has been the uncertainty,” she added.

Asked how they felt about the additional 14-day quarantine in the United States, Cheryl sighed, and her husband, Paul, said, “If we have to go through that, we will go through that.”

Japan on Sunday announced another 70 infections on the Diamond Princess, raising the total number of cases on the ship to 355. Overall, Japan has 413 confirmed cases of the virus, including one death.

Some American passengers aboard the ship said they would pass up the opportunity to take a flight to the U.S. because of the additional quarantine. There also was worry over being on a long flight with other passengers who may be infected or in an incubation period.

One of the Americans, Matthew Smith, said in a tweet Sunday that he saw a passenger with no face mask talking at close quarters with another passenger. He said he and his wife scurried away. "If there are secondary infections onboard, this is why. ... And you wanted me to get on a bus with her?” he said.

He said the American health officials who visited their room was apparently surprised that the couple had decided to stay. They wished the couple luck, and Smith said he told them, “Thanks, but we’re fine.”