Coronavirus Live Updates: Japan Prepares to Release More Cruise Ship Passengers

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Americans who were passengers on a cruise ship quarantined in Japan should all be tested for the new coronavirus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, adding that it will begin to offer them tests on Thursday.

In light of the large outbreak aboard the ship, the Diamond Princess, the agency “has decided it is important to test all evacuees,” it said on Wednesday in a written notice distributed to Americans who were taken from the ship and are being held in quarantine at Travis Air Force Base in California.

“We strongly recommend that you undergo this testing,” it added.

Until now, passengers who were symptom-free and had not been in close quarters with infected people generally have not been tested, in part because the test often fails to detect the virus in the early stages of infection.

More than 600 people who were aboard the ship, the Diamond Princess, have tested positive for the virus and have been hospitalized in Japan, and the number has risen sharply each day. After attempts to halt the spread by isolating people on the ship proved ineffective, Japan began to release most of them on Wednesday.

Earlier this week, the United States repatriated more than 300 passengers and quarantined them for two weeks. Fourteen of those people tested positive for the virus just before leaving Japan, and a few more have tested positive since reaching California.

“Those who are identified as positive for coronavirus will be transferred to a local hospital for observation and continued care,” the C.D.C. notice said. “Those who test negative for coronavirus will remain on the base and continue to serve out their 14-day quarantine.”

The C.D.C. said on Tuesday that it did not want the remaining American passengers — more than 100 of them, including people still on the ship and others who were hospitalized in Japan — to return for at least two weeks.

Two people have died of the coronavirus in Iran, a country that until Wednesday had reported no confirmed cases of the illness.

According to the state-run news agency IRNA, Alireza Vahabzadeh, an adviser to Iran’s health minister, confirmed the deaths, saying both were in the central city of Qum. The adviser described both of those who died as “old” and said one was a veteran of the Iran-Iraq war and a victim of Saddam Hussein’s chemical attacks.

The patients were the first confirmed cases of coronavirus in Iran, and raised the number of countries where it has now been detected to at least 27.

According to the semiofficial Iranian Students’ News Agency, the ministry said that it had isolated an unspecified number of people while they underwent testing for the virus, and that the results of those tests would be made public.

Schools, seminaries and universities in Qum will be closed on Thursday.

Hundreds of passengers disembarked on Wednesday from a cruise ship docked off Yokohama, Japan, as a two-week quarantine of the vessel was coming to an end with a major coronavirus outbreak still raging on board.

An initial group of 443 people were allowed to leave the ship on the first day of what the Japanese authorities have said will be a three-day operation to offload those who have tested negative for the virus and do not have symptoms. Passengers who shared cabins with infected patients have been ordered to remain on the ship.

Several countries have arranged charter flights to take their nationals home after they leave the ship. Most if not all of these passengers face an additional two-week quarantine in their home countries.

At least 621 people aboard the ship, the Diamond Princess, have been infected. On Wednesday, the authorities reported an additional 79 cases on the ship, which originally carried about 3,700 passengers and crew members.

More than half of all the recorded cases outside China, the center of the epidemic, have been aboard the ship.

Many of the infected had already been taken to nearby hospitals. More than 300 Americans, at least 14 of whom were infected, had also been taken off the boat earlier this week and placed in a 14-day quarantine at military bases in the United States.

  • Updated Feb. 10, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • How worried should I be?
      While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.

But another 100 or more Americans will not return home for at least two more weeks, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday.

More than 700 passengers from another cruise ship, which was allowed to dock in Cambodia last week after being turned away by ports across Asia, have tested negative for the virus, Cambodian health officials said on Wednesday.

The 740 passengers have been in Cambodia since their ship, the Westerdam, was permitted to dock in the port city of Sihanoukville on Feb. 13. An additional 233 passengers, who had been forced to remain onboard, will be permitted to disembark on Wednesday.

Holland America Line, which operates the Westerdam, initially said none of the passengers or crew had been infected. Cambodia allowed more than 1,000 passengers to disembark after checking them for fever; only a few underwent laboratory testing for the virus.

But on Saturday, an American passenger was found to be infected after flying to Malaysia, raising concerns that others onboard the ship had also been exposed. She was one of hundreds from the Westerdam who had left Cambodia.

Cambodian officials said the 740 passengers checked since then had undergone laboratory tests for the virus. The results suggested — for now, at least — that a large-scale outbreak had not occurred. Before landing at Sihanoukville, the ship carried 1,455 passengers and 802 crew members.

“This completes the guests’ testing,” Holland America said in a statement. “These results provide the required clearance for remaining guests in Cambodia to begin their onward journey home.”

The cruise line said that those passengers who had already returned home “will be contacted by their local health department and provided further information,” but gave no details about how that would happen.

Passengers have flown home to countries on at least three continents, including the United States, the Netherlands and Australia.

A total of 747 crew members who remain aboard the Westerdam are being tested for the virus, the company said. It was unclear whether 55 crew members who previously left the ship had been tested or what countries they were in.

The ship will remain in Sihanoukville while the crew tests are conducted.

Both of the cruise ships caught up in the coronavirus outbreak belong to parts of the same company: Carnival Corporation, which finds itself facing an international crisis and financial pain.

Carnival runs Holland America Line, whose fleet includes the Westerdam cruise ship that docked in Cambodia. Another Carnival ship, the Diamond Princess, has been moored outside the Japanese city of Yokohama with hundreds of coronavirus cases reported onboard.

Carnival serves nearly 11.5 million travelers a year, roughly half the global cruise market. In the coming months, industry analysts say, the coronavirus crisis could take a financial toll on the company, which has been looking to make inroads into the fast-growing Chinese market.

It is not the first time the company has faced an international crisis. In 2012, one of its ships, the Costa Concordia, ran aground off the coast of Italy, killing 32 people.

In 2016, Carnival’s Princess cruise line agreed to pay a $40 million penalty for illegally dumping oil-contaminated waste into the sea and trying to cover it up. Carnival acknowledged in June that it had violated probation terms from that case and was ordered to pay an additional penalty of $20 million.

On Wednesday, the number of confirmed new cases in mainland China appeared again to be slowing, was 1,749, the health ministry said. That brought the country’s total number of reported infections to 74,185. The ministry reported 136 deaths in the previous 24 hours, bringing the total in the mainland to 2,004.

Among some conservationists and scientists, the spread of the new coronavirus has prompted a renewed focus on the dangers of the global trade in wildlife.

The SARS epidemic, caused by a different coronavirus, began in China with the consumption of a catlike animal called the palm civet. The MERS epidemic began with a coronavirus transmitted to humans from camels in the Middle East.

Experts still do not know which species transmitted the new coronavirus to people. But pangolins, also known as scaly anteaters, are now the leading suspects.

Scientists describe live meat markets like the one in Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus appears to have originated, as unintended laboratories for creating new viruses.

“You have a bird pooping on a turtle that poops on a civet,” said Christian Walzer, executive director of health at the Wildlife Conservation Society. “For getting new viruses to emerge, you couldn’t do it much better even if you tried.”

Last month, as the coronavirus spread, the central government in Beijing issued a nationwide but temporary ban on all trade in wild animals, including their transport and sale in markets, restaurants and via online platforms.

Officials in Beijing have now drafted legislation to end “the pernicious habit of eating wildlife,” according to a statement released on Monday by the standing committee of the National People’s Congress.

But experts fear pressure for such a ban will ease as the crisis passes.

“Once a disease jumps into humans, all the responses are reactive and the focus is on human health,” said Dr. Alonso Aguirre, a wildlife ecologist at George Mason University. “We never go back to the source of why these things happen in the first place.”

South Korea reported 15 more cases of the new coronavirus on Wednesday, bringing the total number of patients infected with the disease to 46.

Of the 15 new patients, 13 were residents of Daegu, 186 miles southeast of Seoul, said the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a daily news briefing.

Ten of those infected were members of the same church, it said.

Of the new patients, 11 were believed to have contracted the disease through contact with a 61-year-old woman in Daegu who had earlier been diagnosed with the virus.

Officials said they had shut down or quarantined hospital emergency rooms in Daegu where the patients passed through.

South Korea has tested more than 10,000 people for the virus. Of the 46 who have tested positive, 12 have recovered and been discharged from quarantine, officials said.

Russia has barred entry to most Chinese citizens, a significant escalation of the country’s scramble to stop the spread of the coronavirus from its neighbor to the southeast.

The entry of many Chinese citizens, including residents of the semiautonomous regions of Hong Kong and Macau, onto Russian territory will be halted indefinitely as of Thursday, according to an order issued on Tuesday by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.

In a separate statement on Wednesday, the country’s Foreign Ministry clarified that the move would be temporary and that it applied only to visitors with tourist, private, student and work visas. Russia will continue to issue official, business, humanitarian and transit visas, and allow entry to their holders.

Russia, which has so far reported only two confirmed cases of the coronavirus, closed its 2,600-mile land border with China last month and limited travel between the two countries. But it allowed some flights from China into Moscow to proceed.

The new move carries significant economic and geopolitical implications: China is by far Russia’s biggest trading partner, with more than $100 billion in imports and exports in 2018. The Kremlin has looked to cement tighter strategic ties with Beijing amid both countries’ confrontations with the West.

More than 1.5 million Chinese tourists visited Russia last year, helping to prop up regional economies across the country. Russia’s Association of Tourism Operators said on Tuesday that if the ban continues into the high summer season, the industry will lose more than $500 million.

The restrictive measures adopted by China delayed the spread of the virus to other countries by two to three weeks, World Health Organization officials said on Tuesday.

Harsh internal measures — like canceling train, bus and airline travel; closing schools and factories; and pressuring citizens to stay home — slowed the virus’s spread from Wuhan to the rest of China by two to three days, they added.

“Right now, the strategic and tactical approach in China is the correct one,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, the agency’s chief of emergency response.

“You can argue whether in this case they are excessive or restrictive on people, but there is an awful lot at stake here in terms of public health — and not only public health within China.”

Some health experts have condemned China’s restrictions, saying they could lead to panic, economic hardship, stigmatization of Chinese people, difficulty moving supplies to affected areas and possibly a recession. On Jan. 30, as it declared China’s outbreak a public health emergency, the World Health Organization advised against restricting travel or trade.

In the past, agency officials — including the director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus — lavishly praised China’s sacrifices and leadership but declined to comment on its use of harsh measures. At the same time, agency officials reiterated that they opposed travel restrictions by other countries.

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