February 17 coronavirus news
A total of 14 passengers were confirmed to have the novel coronavirus as they were evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan and left the country on a flight chartered by the US government, according to a joint statement by the US Departments of State, and Health and Human Services.
The US government arranged the jet to evacuate American passengers stuck on the ship, and more than 300 people boarded the plane, which left Japan yesterday. Americans who had already tested positive for coronavirus were not be allowed to board the evacuation charters.
Here's what the statement said:
During the evacuation process, after passengers had disembarked the ship and initiated transport to the airport, US officials received notice that 14 passengers, who had been tested 2-3 days earlier, had tested positive for COVID-19. These individuals were moved in the most expeditious and safe manner to a specialized containment area on the evacuation aircraft to isolate them in accordance with standard protocols.
After consultation with HHS officials, including experts from the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, the State Department made the decision to allow the 14 individuals, who were in isolation, separated from other passengers, and continued to be asymptomatic, to remain on the aircraft to complete the evacuation process.
During the flights, these individuals will continue to be isolated from the other passengers. These flights departed Japan at approximately 4:30 PM Eastern time on February 16 and will arrive in the United States later this morning.
All passengers are being closely monitored by medical professionals throughout the flight, and any who become symptomatic will be moved to the specialized containment area, where they will be treated.
More than 3,600 people, including 428 Americans, were stuck on the ship after revelations earlier this month that a passenger on board had been infected with the virus.
At least 46 Americans are among the 356 people infected with coronavirus aboard the Diamond Princess and will remain in Japanese hospitals.
Passengers onboard the chartered flight will undergo two weeks of quarantine upon arrival in the US. That decision by the US government prompted anger from some exhausted passengers.
Thailand has confirmed a 35th case of novel coronavirus, the country's Ministry of Public Health said Monday.
The patient is a 68-year-old Chinese woman tourist and the fourth person from the same family who has been infected with the virus, the ministry said.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia will send a charter flight to Japan to evacuate its citizens onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship Wednesday.
However, the evacuees will have to spend another 14 days in quarantine in a mining village in the northern city of Darwin.
“Over the past two weeks, it has been a terrible ordeal for the more than 200 Australians and other passengers who are on the Diamond Princess,” Morrison said. “We are taking this action on the clear advice of our medical experts.”
Australian government chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said the evacuees must undergo another round of quarantine because they are "not quite sure why there have been ongoing infections."
"Given there has been recent cases, we cannot be absolutely sure that any of the currently well people on the ship who are coming home on Wednesday are not carrying the virus," Murphy said, according to CNN affiliate Nine News Australia.
"The Australians who have been quarantined over the last 12 days, many of them have done everything that they have been asked to do and they are probably wondering why we are imposing this extra requirement," he said.
Morrison thanked Australian airline Qantas for agreeing to operate the flight.
Malaysia will not allow any people who were on board the Westerdam cruise liner to enter its borders after one of the ship's passengers entered the country and then tested positive for the virus.
The patient, an 83-year-old American woman, and her husband were both found to have symptoms when they landed in Kuala Lumpur after flying in from Cambodia, Malaysia's Health Ministry said in a statement. The husband tested negative.
Search for port: The Westerdam spent days at sea looking for a port that would allow the ship to dock. Several governments feared passengers on the Westerdam could have been infected with the coronavirus because the ship had docked in Hong Kong. The Cambodian government allowed the ship to dock late last week, and the 1,455 passengers were allowed to return to their respective countries after they successfully passed through health screenings.
Malaysia on alert: The infected patient and her husband were among 145 people who had flown into Kuala Lumpur from Cambodia, Malaysian authorities said. Six passengers are still in the country awaiting their outbound flights -- authorities said they will be tested for the virus and if the results are negative, they will be allowed to continue their journeys.
The Malaysian government has announced several other measures including barring cruise ships that originated or transited in China from entering Malaysia and suspending the remaining Westerdam passengers in Cambodia from entering Malaysia on the three remaining charter flights.
As of February 16, Malaysia has 22 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus. Eight of them have been discharged from the hospital.
Two more people in Japan have tested positive for coronavirus, the country's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has announced.
One patient is an administrative assistant with the ministry who had been working on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where hundreds of infections have been confirmed.
The other is a nurse in her 40s who had been treating a woman in her 80s infected with the virus in Kanagawa prefecture, officials there said. The elderly woman later died, becoming the first person in Japan to be killed by the virus.
The nurse didn’t come into close contact with others and is undergoing treatment in hospital, authorities said.
“Based on this latest incident, we will reassess and strengthen the preventive measures for staffers engaged in tackling the outbreak,” Japan’s Health Ministry said in a statement Monday.
Japan has now confirmed a total of 414 cases -- 357 related to the Diamond Princess and 57 with no connection to the ship. The elderly woman is the only person in Japan to have died of the virus.
The number of deaths from the novel coronavirus has risen to 1,775, with an additional 100 deaths reported Sunday in Hubei, the Chinese province at the center of the outbreak.
There have been more than 71,000 cases worldwide, with the vast majority of those in mainland China. The largest outbreak outside of China has been on the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which has been docked in Yokohama, Japan, for almost two weeks.
US evacuation: Hundreds of Americans onboard were able to leave Sunday, on a specially chartered flight organized by the US government. They are swapping one quarantine for another, however, with US authorities saying Saturday that on their return stateside, the passengers will have to undergo another two weeks of observation and testing at one of two military bases.
Passenger anger: The move sparked anger from many passengers, who saw it as yet another delay to getting back to their normal lives. "It's like a prison sentence for something I did not do," passenger Karey Mansicalco told CNN from her cabin. "They are holding us hostage for absolutely no reason."
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The US State Department said it is aware of reports of an 83-year-old American woman in Malaysia who was infected with the novel coronavirus, but a spokesperson for the department said it is not yet clear where and how she contracted it.
“(She) has been tested by Malaysian medical authorities and confirmed by them as positive for the Covid-19 virus. We do not yet have sufficient evidence to determine when the passenger may have been exposed, and where,” said the spokesperson.
The woman is now in Malaysia receiving treatment. She had been on board the Westerdam, a cruise ship which docked in Cambodia late last week after it was turned away from several other ports in Asia. Several governments feared passengers on the Westerdam could have been infected with the coronavirus because the ship had docked in Hong Kong.
All passengers were screened for fever prior to disembarking in Cambodia, according to the State Department spokesperson. Passengers who reported being ill at any point during the cruise were tested for the virus, but those tests were negative according to the spokesperson.
The company that owns the Westerdam, Holland America, has acknowledged that one of its disembarked passengers has tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
The number of Chinese tourists visiting South Korea has dropped significantly since the beginning of February, authorities in Seoul said.
Health Minister Park Neung-hoo told reporters Sunday that the number of daily visitors from mainland China has dropped from about 13,000 a day on February 2 to about 4,000 on Saturday.
That's a significant drop considering that in February 2019, 453,000 Chinese nationals visited South Korea -- a daily average of nearly 16,200.
Why it matters: China is South Korea's biggest source of visitors, and there are concerns a drop in Chinese arrivals could exacerbate any negative effects the epidemic may have on the South Korean economy.
Hong Nam-ki, the country's minister of economy and finance, said Monday that the government plans to help the domestic tourism industry by lending $253 million to budget airlines and providing $50 million worth of no-collateral, low interest rate loans for small and medium sized tour companies.
Japan’s fifth evacuation flight from Wuhan landed in Tokyo Monday, carrying evacuees from the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.
The plane left on Sunday night and landed at Haneda airport early Monday morning. There were 36 Japanese citizens and 29 Chinese citizens onboard, including spouses of Japanese nationals.
Medical staff will test all the passengers for coronavirus, even if they are not showing symptoms.
Before Monday, 763 people had returned to Japan from Hubei province on four previous evacuation flights. The Japanese government said there will be no more evacuation flights for now.