Americans began leaving a quarantined cruise ship off Japan late on February 16 to board chartered flights home as the number of new COVID-19 cases diagnosed on the vessel jumped by 70 to 355.The evacuation came as Japanese authorities stepped up warnings over the deadly outbreak, urging citizens to avoid crowds and “non-essential gatherings”.The Diamond Princess was placed in a 14-day quarantine in early February after a former passenger tested positive for the virus.But U.S. authorities announced Saturday they would offer Americans on board the option to leave the ship and fly home, where they will face another 14-day isolation period. Several other governments have announced plans to remove their citizens from the ship as well.Late on February 16 and into the early hours of February 17 (Japan time), Americans who opted to leave were brought off the ship in groups, passing through a makeshift passport control but undergoing no health checks, American passenger Sarah Arana told AFP.They boarded buses driven by personnel in head-to-toe protective suits and were told that the more than a dozen vehicles would travel in a convoy.COVID-19 | Will provide all possible help to Indians on cruise ship to return home, says Indian Embassy | Death toll in China exceeds 1,600“I am happy and ready to go,” Ms. Arana told AFP before leaving the ship. “We need a proper quarantine, this was not it.”The U.S. government should have intervened “much sooner, at the beginning”, the 52-year-old medical social worker said. “This was too much for Japan, and they shouldn’t have had to bear the burden,” she added. “The people of Japan did not deserve this. I am full of gratitude.”Declining to leaveBut other Americans on board declined the evacuation, despite being warned they will still have to wait two weeks and test negative for the virus before being allowed back to the United States.“My health is fine. And my two-week quarantine is almost over. Why would I want to be put on a bus and a plane with other people they think may be infected when I have spent nearly two weeks isolated from those people?” tweeted Matt Smith, an American lawyer on the ship with his wife.He described a fellow American passenger standing on her balcony chanting “USA, USA” as buses arrived to collect them.“Of course, in contravention of the rules of quarantine, she’s not wearing a face mask, and she’s talking with a passenger on the adjacent balcony… And you wanted me to get on a bus with her?”Earlier on February 16, Japan Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said 1,219 people on the ship had now been tested for the virus, with 355 diagnosed with the illness.Japan has not been able to test all those on board due to limited supplies of testing kits, facilities and manpower, which are also needed by authorities tracking the spread of the virus on land.But the Health Ministry said on february 15 that passengers older than 70 are being examined and those testing negative and in good health will be allowed to leave the ship from February 19.