Around 500 Filipinos on Japan cruise ship to come home on February 23

MANILA, Philippines – Around 500 Filipinos who were quarantined onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan due to the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) are set to be repatriated to the Philippines on Sunday, February 23. 

In a press conference on Thursday, February 20, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the repatriation was originally set for Tuesday, February 25, but the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) adjusted the date after the Japanese government announced it will be closing down the cruise ship.

"The [original] date [was] February 25, [but] it will be advanced to February 23. That's on a Sunday. The exact time is being determined by DFA as they are coordinating the repatriation of not 400 but 500 Filipinos with their counterpart in Japan and with the Ministry of Health, [Labor, and Welfare]," Duque said.  

Two planes, with a 2- to 3-hour interval between their arrival times, will be flying the Filipinos from Japan to the Clark Air Base on Sunday. From there, the repatriates will be brought to the Athletes' Village in New Clark City in Tarlac, where they will have to undergo another 14-day quarantine period.  

Once the repatriates arrive in New Clark City, at least 549 Filipinos will be quarantined there to be monitored for possible cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by 2019-nCoV.

The first batch of quarantined Filipinos used to work in the Chinese province of Hubei, the epicenter of the outbreak, which has so far killed 2,118 people and infected 74,500 across China.

Duque said the Department of Heath (DOH) will be implementing a 1:1 repatriate-to-room ratio during the quarantine. But passengers with family members will be asked to stay in one room.

The DOH will also be deploying health personnel from 16 government-run hospitals across Luzon to do shifts in New Clark City and watch over the health of the quarantined Filipinos.

Among those to be quarantined are at least 41 Filipinos who were aboard the cruise ship and later tested positive for COVID-19.

Duque said the first infected Filipino to recover from the disease – a crew member of Diamond Princess – will still be subjected to the 14-day quarantine in New Clark City.  

"Oh yes, ika-quarantine din 'yan (Oh yes, he has to be quarantined). Because number one, we don't know much of the virus. We don't know if there's going to be immunity or if there's going to be re-infection," Duque said. 

As of Thursday, the DOH has yet to report any case of local transmission of COVID-19, although the Philippines has recorded 3 confirmed cases of the new disease. One of them died, but the other two recovered.

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.