'Never been this happy'- passengers from virus-hit cruise ship arrive home in Taiwan

By Yimou Lee

By Yimou Lee

TAIPEI (Reuters) - Nineteen Taiwanese citizens arrived back home clad in full protective suits on Friday after spending more than two weeks stuck on a quarantined cruise ship in a Japanese port due to the coronavirus outbreak.

"I have never been this happy before to return to Taiwan...I almost burst into tears the moment the aircraft touched down," one of the passengers, Sunny Chen, said in a social media post.

The 19 landed on a chartered China Airlines plane at the island's main airport in Taoyuan, live television channels showed. They were taken by ambulances and will be put into quarantine after further medical checks, the health ministry said.

More than 620 passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise liner have been infected with the coronavirus, the most outside mainland China.

It has been quarantined in Yokohama port since Feb. 3 and initially had about 3,700 passengers and crew on board. Hundreds of international passengers from the ship have now left for chartered flights home including those from the United States, Hong Kong and Canada.

"I'd like to thank all the government agencies and medical staff...We will accept Taiwan's further quarantine," Chen said in his post, which showed him wearing a mask, goggle and full protective suit while the plane taxied down the runway.

Authorities said five Taiwanese nationals have tested positive for the virus on the ship and remained in Japan.

Taiwan now has 26 confirmed cases. It has banned entry to Chinese visitors and foreigners with a recent history of travel to China and suspended most flights to its neighbour.

A taxi-driver died from the new coronavirus last week, the first such fatality in Taiwan.

The government this week proposed a bill to penalize those who violated home quarantine orders, saying a violation would be fined up to T$2 million ($65,845) or two years in jail.

In a response to panic buying of masks, the government is building several mask production lines and Premier Su Tseng-chang said Taiwan will more than double its daily mask production to 10 million by early March.

(Reporting By Yimou Lee; Editing by Angus MacSwan)