Despite the objections of US health officials, the US State Department ultimately decided to evacuate Americans infected with coronavirus on a plane with healthy people, putting them at risk of infection.
The Washington Post reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention argued to keep 14 people infected with the flu-like respiratory illness in Japan, where they were docked with the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship, instead of sending them back to the US and susbsequently doubling the population of infected people in the US and potentially endangering others.
More than 300 Americans were waiting to return home after being quarantined on the ship for weeks. Test results showed that least 14 passengers had the virus. Health officials said that the infected passengers should remain behind, but a last-minute decision from Donald Trump's State Department put the patients on the same plane, the Post reports.
The newspaper quotes one official as saying it was their "worst nightmare".
"Quite frankly, the alternative could have been pulling grandma out in the pouring rain, and that would have been bad, too" the official said.
Prior to the latest cases, the CDC had confirmed 15 cases in the US, and 52 additional cases are pending.
The Diamond Princess left Yohohama on 20 January. A passenger left the ship and checked into a Hong Kong hospital when it docked there a few days later. On 1 February, officials confirmed that passenger was infected with the virus.
On 3 February, the ship return to Yokohama, but Japanese officials warned that the ship could not leave, as dozens of other positive cases onboard the ship were reported, triggering a shipwide quarantine that lasted for weeks until passengers received clearence to leave.
The Post reports that officials with the CDC and National Institutes of Health urged the State Department and Department of Health and Human Services to avoid mingling infected passengers with otherwise healthy passengers, though officials argued that the two Boeing 747s chartered for the evacuation were equipped with 18 "cordoned off" seats covererd in "10-foot-high plastic on all four sides" for the journey.
On 18 February, the department announced that "there is no higher priority for the State Department than the health and safety of US citizens overseas".
Two infectious disease doctors alsso were on the flight.
As the flight prepared to make its landing at Travis Air Force base in California, the State Department announced 14 passengers tested positive for the virus.