It has no doubt been a stressful few weeks for guests and crew on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has been under quarantine off the coast of Japan since 3 February due to an outbreak of coronavirus (Covid-19).

However, as of today, passengers have started leaving the ship in a process that could potentially take up to three days due to health checks.

A total of 3,700 passengers and crew have been stuck on board the ship and the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 on board has risen to 540.

Today (19 February), the Foreign Office (FCO) answered the plea of the 74 British passengers on board by announcing that it was planning to run an evacuation flight “as soon as possible” to bring them home.

In a statement, the FCO said: “We are planning an evacuation flight from Tokyo to the UK as soon as possible for Britons who are on the Diamond Princess. We hope the flight will be later this week, subject to permissions from the Japanese authorities.”

The FCO confirmed that some passengers had already been allowed to disembark the ship, but warned that “there is a chance that people who disembark will not be able to join the evacuation flight”.

It added: “We have the utmost concern for the affected Britons and strongly encourage them to register for the evacuation flight.”

Following on from this, a Princess Cruises spokesperson confirmed that the Embassies of Australia and Hong Kong are coordinating the collection and transport of their respective citizens, guests and crew, via charter flights today, with a flight for Canadian citizens having been arranged for Friday.

“Based on information provided by the embassies directly to their citizens, they will also require an additional 14 days of quarantine upon arrival in their country of origin. A negative COVID-19 test following this quarantine will be required before being allowed to travel to their final destination. We expect to receive confirmation of the exact numbers of those travelling on these charter flights after the flights have departed.

“According to the Japanese Ministry of Health, the disembark process for those individuals who are not taking government repatriation flights will start today.

“The disembark process will be undertaken over several consecutive days, since they will be tested, and the testing and results require two to three days to complete. A certificate that indicates a negative COVID-19 test result is expected to be granted by Japanese health authorities to exit the ship.”

Princess Cruises president, Jan Swartz, has returned to Japan with other members of her team in order to support the cruise line’s response operations and help prepare for the disembarkation of guests.

“Working in coordination with the Japanese Ministry of Health, Princess Cruises will be monitoring the progress of guests who have contracted COVID-19 and will be offering travel assistance to these individuals upon their recovery and delivery of a health certificate by Japanese health authorities,” added the cruise line’s spokesperson.

Princess Cruises has confirmed that it will be refunding the entire cruise fare for all guests including air travel, hotel, ground transportation, pre-paid shore excursions, gratuities, plus other items.

Guests are also not being charged for any “onboard incidental charges during the additional time on board” and the line will be providing guests with a future cruise credit “equal to the cruise fare paid for the voyage”.

For more information on Diamond Princess, visit princess.com. For more information on what to do if you’re booked on a cruise, click here.