More than 70 Britons stranded on a coronavirus-hit cruise ship in Japan could be flown home after a group of Americans cut short their 14-day quarantine in order to return to the US.
A Number 10 spokesperson said the Foreign Office is in contact with all 74 British people on the Diamond Princess cruise ship to establish whether a repatriation flight is needed.
It comes after pressure mounted on the Foreign Office to evacuate British nationals from the ship.
The US chartered two flights to bring 340 of its citizens back to America where they will begin a new quarantine period at military facilities to make sure they do not have the coronavirus (Covid-19).
Other countries, including Canada, Hong Kong and Australia, have said they are organising flights to remove people from the ship, but the UK has not yet made such a commitment.
The Number 10 spokesman said: "We sympathise with all those caught up in this extremely difficult situation.
"The Foreign Office is in contact with all British people on the Diamond Princess, including to establish interest in a possible repatriation flight.
"We are urgently considering all options to guarantee the health and safety of those on board."
A British couple on board the ship, who are still awaiting the results of their own tests for Covid-19, have appealed for help in getting home.
Sally Abel, who is on board with husband David, admitted that seeing American passengers being allowed to exit the ship had "got to her".
Sir Richard Branson said Virgin Atlantic was "in discussions" with the Government over whether he could help those stranded, after seeing the couple's appeal.
Sir Richard tweeted: "@VirginAtlantic does not fly to Japan, but we are in discussions with the UK government and seeing if there is anything we can do to help."
Defence minister Taro Kono tweeted that Japanese troops helped transport the US passengers on 14 buses from Yokohama to Haneda airport.
It is thought around 40 Americans chose to stay on the ship, which is currently docked in the port of Yokohama, near Tokyo.
Among those who decided to trade one quarantine for another were Cheryl and Paul Molesky.
- Cheryl and Paul Molesky leave the Diamond Princess ship where they've been quarantined for 12 days.
Mrs Molesky sent The Associated Press a video of her and her husband boarding a plane with other Americans.
“Well, we’re exhausted, but we’re on the plane and that’s a good feeling. Pretty miserable wearing these masks though, and everybody had to go to the bathroom on the bus,” she said.
The US embassy in Tokyo said Washington evacuated the Americans because the passengers and crew members on board the Diamond Princess were at a high risk of exposure to the virus.
The US State Department announced later that 14 of the evacuees received confirmation they had the virus but were allowed to board the flight because they did not have symptoms. They were being isolated separately from other passengers on the flight.
The Americans were flown to Travis Air Force Base in California and Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. After arriving in the US, all of the passengers must go through another 14 days of quarantine — meaning they will have been under quarantine for a total of nearly four weeks.
“We are glad to be going home,” Mrs Molesky earlier told NHK TV in Japan. “It’s just a little bit disappointing that we’ll have to go through quarantine again, and we will probably not be as comfortable as the Diamond Princess, possibly.”
Mrs Molesky also said she was worried about the rising number of patients on the ship.
“It’s a little bit scary with the numbers going up of the people being taken off the ship for the (virus), so I think it is time to go. I think it is time to cut our losses and take off,” she said.
On Sunday, Japan announced another 70 infections on the Diamond Princess, raising the ship’s total number of cases to 355. Overall, Japan has 413 confirmed cases of the virus, including one death.
Asked how they felt about the additional 14-day quarantine in the United States, Mr Molesky said: “If we have to go through that, we will go through that.”
Some American passengers said they would pass up the opportunity to fly to the United States because of the additional quarantine. There also was worry about being on a long flight with other passengers who may be infected or in an incubation period.
One of the Americans, Matthew Smith, said in a tweet on Sunday that he saw a passenger with no face mask talking at close quarters with another passenger. He said he and his wife scurried away.
He said the American health officials who visited their room were apparently surprised that the couple had decided to stay. They wished the couple luck, and Smith said he told them, “thanks, but we’re fine”.
Last week, Mr Abel appealed to Mr Branson to charter a special plane to rescue British nationals from the ship.
In a new video post on Monday, Mrs Abel admitted that seeing American passengers being allowed to exit the ship had "got to her".
She said: "I have to say, I realise why, but they put up a YouTube film of them going down the stairs, walking outside, being greeted by the American people outside there," she said.
"That did get to me a bit."
Mr and Mrs Abel are still awaiting the results of their own tests for Covid-19 and said the constant announcements on board the ship are making them sleep-deprived.
Mrs Abel said: "Before anybody says I look tired - I am tired, and the reason being because the Americans didn't leave here until the early hours of the morning and we'd been in bed several hours.
"Every half an hour we would be woken with an announcement for the next lot to go down to the coaches. So that's why we look tired - after this recording we will have a nap."
The couple said the last announcements were at 1am and that breakfast had been served to them at 6am.
"We haven't had very much sleep at all," said Mrs Abel.