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Coronavirus: Japan cruise ship’s US passengers home for further quarantine

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Media captionAmericans are taken from the docked ship to Haneda airport in Tokyo

Two planes carrying hundreds of US citizens from a coronavirus-hit cruise ship in Japan have arrived in the US.

One plane landed at a US Air Force base in California and the other in Texas. Passengers will be isolated at military facilities for 14 days.

There were about 400 Americans on board the Diamond Princess. The ship, with some 3,700 passengers and crew, has been in quarantine since 3 February.

Meanwhile, China has reported 2,051 new cases in the past 24 hours.

Of those new cases, 94% were from Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak.

More than 70,600 people across China have been infected by the virus, with 1,771 deaths. Most new cases and deaths have been reported in Wuhan, Hubei’s largest city.

In other developments:

  • In Japan, a public gathering to celebrate the birthday of new Emperor Naruhito later this week has been cancelled, due to concerns over the spread of the virus
  • Also in Japan, organisers of the Tokyo marathon due to take place on 1 March have cancelled the amateur part of the race, affecting some 38,000 runners, after cases of the virus were confirmed in the city. Only elite runners will be allowed to take part
  • China’s National People’s Congress standing committee said it would meet next week to discuss a delay of this year’s Congress – the Communist Party’s most important annual gathering – because of the outbreak
  • At the weekend, an American woman tested positive for the virus in Malaysia after leaving a cruise ship docked off the coast of Cambodia. There are fears for other passengers on the cruise, who are now dispersed around the world
  • A Russian woman who was ordered to go back to a quarantine facility by a St Petersburg court has returned to hospital. Last week, Alla Ilyina escaped from the facility after testing negative three times for the virus, but was told to remain quarantined for two weeks

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Getty Images

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Alla Ilyina outside the St Petersburg court on Monday

What will happen to the repatriated US passengers?

More than 300 passengers were repatriated voluntarily, the US state department said. Fourteen of them were reported during transit to have tested positive for the virus and were being kept separate from the other passengers, it said.

They will all undergo a 14-day quarantine, on top of the time they have already spent confined on the ship.

US officials later said 13 of the passengers thought to be “high risk” were sent on to a special facility at the University of Nebraska in Omaha.

At least 40 US citizens who were already showing symptoms prior to the evacuation were not allowed on the planes and would be treated in Japan, Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told US broadcaster CBS.

Also, some Americans have declined to be evacuated, preferring to wait until the ship quarantine comes to an end on 19 February.

Passenger Matt Smith, a lawyer, said he would not want to travel on a bus to the plane with possibly infected people.

What’s happening on the Diamond Princess?

The cruise ship was put in quarantine in Japan’s port of Yokohama after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong was found to have the virus.

On Monday, Japanese officials said there were 99 new cases of infections on board the ship, bringing the total to 454 confirmed cases. It is the largest cluster of cases outside China.

A Russian woman who was on board and tested positive is thought to be the first Russian national to contract the virus, Reuters news agency reports.

She will be taken to a hospital for treatment, the Russian embassy in Japan said.

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AFP

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Those bound for the US left from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport

To assist with relief efforts, Japan’s government has given away 2,000 iPhones to passengers on the ship – one for each cabin.

The smartphones were distributed so people could use an app, created by Japan’s health ministry, which links users with doctors, pharmacists and mental health counsellors. Phones registered outside of Japan are unable to access the app.

Other evacuation flights have been arranged to repatriate residents of Israel, Hong Kong and Canada. On Monday, Australia announced that it would evacuate 200 of its citizens too and the UK said it was considering organising an evacuation flight.

What is happening in China?

According to official figures for 16 February, 100 people died from the virus in Hubei, down from 139 on Saturday.

The Chinese authorities are tightening curbs on movement to combat the outbreak. People in Hubei province, which has 60 million people, have been ordered to stay at home, though they will be allowed to leave in an emergency.

In addition, a single person from each household will be allowed to leave the building or compound they live in every three days to buy food and essential items.

On housing estates, one entrance will be kept open. It will be guarded to ensure that only residents can enter or leave.

All businesses will stay closed, except chemists, hotels, food shops and medical services.

There will be a ban on the use of private cars, but vehicles used for the delivery of essential goods are exempt.

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Media captionMedics in Wuhan resort to shaving their heads in a bid to prevent cross-infection of the coronavirus

In the Chinese capital, Beijing, authorities have ordered everyone returning to the city to go into quarantine for 14 days or risk punishment.

China’s central bank will also disinfect and store used banknotes before recirculating them in a bid to stop the virus spreading.

New cases spiked last week after a change in the way they were counted, but have been falling since.

National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said the figures showed China was managing to curb the outbreak.

Taiwan has reported a death from the illness – a taxi driver, 61, who had not travelled abroad recently but had diabetes and hepatitis B, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said.

The minister said many of his passengers had come from China.

Outside China, there have been more than 600 cases in nearly 30 countries. Four others have died outside mainland China – in France, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Japan.

The virus is a new strain of coronavirus and causes an acute respiratory disease which has been named Covid-19.


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