Coronavirus: Britons aboard Diamond Princess cruise ship will arrive back in the UK on Saturday

Julian Ryall
Passengers were scanned as they left the cruise ship on Friday - KIM KYUNG-HOON/REUTERS 

British nationals aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship who have not tested positive for the novel coronavirus are to disembark from the vessel late on Friday evening and will take a charter flight that will depart from Tokyo for Britain in the early hours of Saturday morning. 

The flight should touch down in Britain shortly before dawn on Saturday, with reports suggesting the aircraft will land at Boscombe Down, the Ministry of Defence base outside Salisbury. 

There are 78 British nationals among the 3,700 passengers and crew of the cruise ship, which has been quarantined in Yokohama since early February after 10 passengers were initially diagnosed with the virus. According to the Japanese government, 634 people aboard the vessel have now tested positive for the virus, including four Britons. 

The British embassy in Tokyo does not have a precise figure for the British passport holders who will board Saturday’s flight as a number of the people aboard the ship have dual nationality, are not resident in the UK and may choose to return to the country where they are living. 

Officials in London and at the embassy in Tokyo have been “working around the clock to ensure that British nationals can be evacuated as quickly and smoothly as possible”, a spokesperson told The Telegraph. 

David Abel, a Briton who was aboard the ship, says he has been diagnosed with coronavirus - PA

Arranging the evacuation has been a “complex logistical operation”, the official said, adding that embassy personnel are in close contact with all Britons aboard the Diamond Princess and have “strongly urged” all those who are able to take the flight to the UK to do so. 

David and Sally Abel, two passengers from Northamptonshire who have been documenting their time in quarantine, will not be aboard the flight as they have been transferred to a Japanese hospital after both being diagnosed with the virus.

In their latest social media post, Mr Abel said he had initially been sceptical about the accuracy of their diagnosis but that the positive results have been confirmed. 

“Full health inspection and now we know what’s going on”, he said in his latest post. “We both contracted a cold (unaware of) and it has not yet turned into pneumonia. (We do have coronavirus).

“Tomorrow, the big tests commence. Chest X-rays, ECG, chest scan, urine + more”.

He added that they are “in the best place” and praised the Japanese medical team treating them. 

The Japanese government and health officials, however, are the target of increasing criticism for their handling of the crisis. 

Japan has been criticised for its lack of quarantine time for returning passengers - FRANCK ROBICHON/REX 

Questions have been asked about the decision to quarantine the 3,700 passengers and crew aboard the vessel, with one in six subsequently contracting the virus. 

Two Australian passengers who were given the all-clear in Japan were found to have the virus after arriving in Darwin aboard an evacuation flight on Thursday and there is renewed concern that Japanese health authorities acted hastily in permitting hundreds of Japanese passengers who were not showing any symptoms of the illness to simply return home after disembarking. 

There has also been criticism of members of the Japanese cabinet who have skipped “mandatory” meetings of the task force set up by the government on January 11 to tackle the crisis. 

Shinjiro Koizumi, the environment minister, missed one meeting to attend a party in his constituency, while the justice minister was unable to take part in a meeting as she was visiting a calligraphy exhibition. Another minister skipped a meeting as he was attending a party in his constituency to commend the head of a local volunteer fire brigade. 

Speaking in the Diet, a member of the opposition Democratic Party for the People asked, “Does this administration really have a sense of urgency?”

Meanwhile, the governor of Tokyo has criticised as "inappropriate" the comments of a London mayoral candidate who suggested that the British capital could step in and host the Olympic Games because of the coronavirus threat in Japan.