Coquitlam grandmother among Tri-City group to be evacuated from coronavirus cruise ship

Margaret Tong, 85, of Coquitlam has been quarantined on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship and is to be flown to Canada on Friday, says her son

A group of Tri-City residents are among the 250 Canadians aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has spent two weeks under quarantine in Japan following the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Margaret Tong, an 85-year-old Coquitlam resident, is one of the travellers who will be returning to Canada Friday on a government-chartered flight but her trip is still far from over. The plane is expected to land in Cornwall, Ont., where passengers will be taken to a hotel and kept in isolation for another 14 days.

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"Thanks for your prayers and good wishes," Tong said in a WhatsApp message to her son, Brian Tong, Wednesday night. "Passed the Canadian medical screening. Packing to disembark tonight at 9 p.m. Will contact you upon arrival at Cornwall Ontario."

In an interview with The Tri-City News, Brian Tong said his mom left Vancouver Jan. 18 and was supposed to be home within two weeks. He said information was limited but thankfully his mother had the internet and was able to communicate with him throughout the ordeal.

"The [Japanese] government was very slow in decision making on what to do," he said, noting his mother was traveling with a group of people from the area, "so it was many days of uncertainty while the head count of the infected kept rising."

The good news is that Margaret Tong has been tested and does not appear to have been affected by the virus, her son said. Thermometers were handed out on the ship and anyone who registered a temperature of 37.5 C or higher was asked to go to the medical centre, he said.

"She was always below 36.5," he said.

Despite the upheaval, Brian Tong added that he "wasn't too worried" about his mother, who is active, works out regularly at Coquitlam's City Centre Aquatic Complex and has a strong immune system.

"Of the people affected, there have been very few fatalities," Brian Tong told The Tri-City News, adding, "My mother goes to the gym six times a week."

His bigger concern is getting his mom her medication, which she was running short of during the quarantine period.

"I told her that the Japanese government is responsible for them and they have to top up whoever needs medication," he said. "They were able to do that."

The chartered Canadian flight was expected to take off from Japan at 3:30 a.m local time and land at CFB Trenton at around 1:30 a.m. EST Friday.

There, further screening will be conducted and another two-week quarantine will be imposed. But federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said there is a chance those who test negative for the virus and show no signs of symptoms may be released from quarantine early under the discretion of Canada's top public-health doctor.

Forty-seven of the 250 Canadians will not be on the flight, after testing positive for the virus. They will continue their treatment in Japan.

Two people have died aboard the ship; a man and a woman, both from Japan and in their 80s, were believed to have been infected before the quarantine began, according to Japanese health officials.

– with files from the Canadian Press

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