February 19 coronavirus news

By Ben Westcott, Adam Renton, Jack Guy and Ivana Kottasová, CNN

Updated 1745 GMT (0145 HKT) December 21, 2020
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9:32 p.m. ET, February 19, 2020

Our live coverage of the coronavirus outbreak has moved here.

6:34 p.m. ET, February 19, 2020

Global death toll from coronavirus exceeds 2,100

From CNN’s Steven Jiang, Shanshan Wang and Larry Register

More than 2,100 people have died from coronavirus across the globe, according to the latest figures released Wednesday.

The Hubei health authority reported that 108 more people died of the coronavirus in Hubei province on Wednesday, raising the death toll in the epicenter since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak to 2,029. The Hubei report brings the total number of deaths in mainland China to at least 2,112.

The global death toll from coronavirus has risen to at least 2,120, with eight deaths reported outside of mainland China. Hong Kong and Iran have each reported two deaths from coronavirus. Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and France have each reported one death. 

The global number of confirmed coronavirus cases now exceeds 76,262, with the vast majority of cases in mainland China.

China’s National Health Commission is expected to release numbers for all of China’s provinces later.

See what Shanghai, China, looks like as coronavirus fears linger:

6:13 p.m. ET, February 19, 2020

Coronavirus patients can have similar "viral load" whether or not they show symptoms

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

People with the novel coronavirus may have the same viral load — or amount of virus in the body — whether or not they are showing symptoms of illness, according to researchers in China.

The letter from the researchers, which was published in The New England Journal of Medicine, details how the researchers monitored viral loads of the novel coronavirus in samples taken from the nose and throat of 18 patients: nine men and nine women ranging in age from 26 to 76 in Zhuhai, in China’s Guangdong province. 

For those samples, a total of 72 nasal swabs and 72 throat swabs were collected and analyzed. 

The analysis revealed that higher viral loads were detected soon after a person was showing symptoms, with higher viral loads found in the nose than in the throat. Among the patients, only one was asymptomatic. 

Yet overall, “the viral load that was detected in the asymptomatic patient was similar to that in the symptomatic patients, which suggests the transmission potential of asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic patients,” the researchers wrote in the letter.

“These findings are in concordance with reports that transmission may occur early in the course of infection and suggest that case detection and isolation may require strategies different from those required for the control of SARS-CoV,” the researchers wrote, referring to severe acute respiratory syndrome, known as SARS. “[W]e need better data to determine transmission dynamics and inform our screening practices."

It also turned out that, when it comes to viral shedding, the novel coronavirus seemed to resemble influenza more than SARS, according to the letter.

How many affected: Globally, the World Health Organization has reported that there have been more than 75,000 laboratory or clinically confirmed cases of novel coronavirus and more than 2,000 deaths.

What do you need to know about coronavirus?:

6:02 p.m. ET, February 19, 2020

No US coronavirus cases have been caught by airport temperature checks

From CNN's Elizabeth Cohen and John Bonifield

Since mid-January, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been employing temperature checks at selected airports, at first on people flying in from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, and now on all passengers who've been anywhere in mainland China in the past 14 days.

While the CDC has screened more than 30,000 passengers in the past month, not a single US coronavirus case has been caught by airport temperature checks, according to a CNN investigation. 

CNN reviewed statements by local, state and federal health officials, and emailed and spoke with officials, to determine how many people eventually diagnosed with the novel coronavirus went through airport temperature checks.   

By the numbers: Ten passengers flew into US airports on commercial airliners and were later diagnosed with coronavirus.  

Four of those 10 passengers went through temperature checks and were found not to have a fever or any other symptoms of the virus. Two of those passengers flew into Los Angeles International Airport and two flew into San Francisco International Airport. Previously, a CDC spokesperson had told CNN that two of the passengers were symptomatic during flight, but the spokesperson later said they were asymptomatic while flying. 

Another four out of the 10 passengers were not screened because they flew into airports that did not have screening at the time. Those cases are in Illinois, Washington state, Massachusetts and California.

It's unclear whether the final two passengers went through temperature checks because health officials at the CDC and in Wisconsin and Arizona refused to say when asked by CNN.

How the screening works: The temperature checks are part of an overall screening effort that includes giving passengers cards telling them to watch out for fever, cough and trouble breathing, all symptoms of the novel coronavirus disease, also called COVID-19. 

While airport temperature checks haven't caught any coronavirus cases, the information cards have helped catch US cases of the virus at least twice – once in a passenger who flew into San Francisco, and once in a passenger who flew into Los Angeles.

See family's emotional reunion after coronavirus quarantine:

4:36 p.m. ET, February 19, 2020

Cruise industry focusing on "health and safety" amid coronavirus outbreak

From CNN’s Alison Kosik

The cruise industry is “focused on protecting the health and safety of passengers and crew” amid the coronavirus outbreak, according to the industry’s largest trade group.

“The enhanced screening measures, the first of which were adopted within hours of the WHO declaring a global health emergency, do appear to be working and have enabled operations to continue as usual in many parts of the world,” said Bari Goin-Blaugrund, senior director of strategic communications of Cruise Lines International Association, or CLIA.

Goin-Blaugrund also said that within the global CLIA fleet of 272 cruise ships, only one has experienced any cases of coronavirus on board.

Passengers aboard that ship, the Diamond Princess in Japan, began disembarking Wednesday after a 14-day quarantine. A total of 624 cases of the virus are linked to the stricken ship.

Analysts say the coronavirus could take a financial toll on the industry, especially in China. If operators cancel cruises through March, JP Morgan predicts revenue could fall as much at 15%.

Shares for two of the biggest cruise operators — Royal Caribbean and Carnival — are down more than 16% and 14% this year, respectively.


1:29 p.m. ET, February 19, 2020

Here's how deadly coronavirus is, according to Chinese health officials

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention has calculated a case fatality rate of 2.3% for the novel coronavirus — meaning 2.3% of those known to be infected have died.

Some context: This is higher than influenza, which may hover around 0.1% — but far lower than SARS (9.6%) and MERS (35%).

And remember: International experts have cautioned that early numbers may not tell the whole story. Case fatality rates may come down as officials discover milder cases who don't seek medical care.

6:07 p.m. ET, February 19, 2020

Princess Cruises president calls coronavirus crisis "unprecedented"

From CNN Business' Sandi Sidhu, Sherisse Pham and Matt Rivers

Jan Swartz speaks in 2017.
Jan Swartz speaks in 2017. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The president of the company that owns the stricken cruise ship Diamond Princess greeted disembarking passengers in Tokyo on Wednesday, acknowledging that customers had endured a "challenging" situation following an outbreak of coronavirus on the vessel. 

"This is an unprecedented situation," Jan Swartz, President of Princess Cruises, said in an interview with CNN on Wednesday.

"Nobody going on vacation thinks that they're going to be notified in the last days that they've got an extension ... and they're not going to be allowed to leave their cabins," she added.

The Diamond Princess ship became a floating quarantine zone earlier this month. Dozens of passengers tested positive for the novel coronavirus, effectively trapping more than 3,000 people, including 428 Americans, on board. 

A total of 624 confirmed cases of the coronavirus have been linked to the boat -- the largest outbreak outside of China.

Swartz also specifically highlighted the actions of the ship’s crew. Japan’s government did not allow the roughly 1,000 crew members to be quarantined unless they took ill, instead asking them to work and serve the rest of the passengers throughout the two-week period. 

“I think the guests and our crew who came together to help support each other, from 57 different countries and regions around the world really lifted each other's hearts, as did social media play a critical role in that.”

"Our guests shared stories about living in the cabin for 14 days, clearly it was an uncomfortable, challenging situation," Swartz added.

Even though the departing passengers have tested negative for the virus and endured the 14-day quarantine, there is mounting evidence from infectious disease experts that they could unknowingly be carrying the virus back into their communities.

On Monday, the United States evacuated more than 300 American passengers who had tested negative for the virus from the Diamond Princess, only to discover that more than a dozen of them were infected. 

Canada, Australia and Hong Kong have arranged charter flights to take their citizens home after they leave the ship.

Princess Cruises, which operates a fleet of 20 ships, is the third largest cruise line in the world.

Because of the coronavirus outbreak onboard the Diamond Princess, the company has canceled dozens of sailings, and is moving one of its ships, the Sapphire Princess, from Shanghai to Australia.

Shares in Princess Cruises' parent company Carnival Corporation are down nearly 16% for the year. Carnival said last week that the hit to global bookings and canceled voyages "will have a material impact" on its finances. 

Carnival runs its flagship Carnival Cruise Line, the Princess Cruises brand and the Holland America Line, whose fleet includes the Westerdam, a ship that has been linked to one confirmed case of the coronavirus.

Passenger weeps after leaving cruise ship quarantine:

12:03 p.m. ET, February 19, 2020

US health agency issues coronavirus-related travel advisory for Hong Kong

From CNN's Michael Nedelman and Nadia Kounang

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new travel advisory today for Hong Kong due to the coronavirus outbreak.

This is the only coronavirus-related travel advisory the agency has issued outside of mainland China. 

The CDC advises travelers to “practice usual precautions,” in accordance with a “Watch - Level 1” notice of three possible levels.These precautions include avoiding contact with sick people and cleaning hands. The agency also advises people to seek medical advice if they have spent time in Hong Kong during the last two weeks and feel ill with fever or respiratory symptoms. 

"At this time, CDC does not recommend canceling or postponing travel to Hong Kong,” the agency posted on its website on Wednesday. 

The agency currently lists mainland China as “Warning - Level 3” and advises travelers to “avoid nonessential travel.” The notice excludes Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan. 

11:09 a.m. ET, February 19, 2020

Scientists on coronavirus origin rumors: "Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear"

From CNN's Michael Nedelman

Scientists around the world are slamming and debunking conspiracy theories that the novel coronavirus has its origins not in animals, but in a Chinese laboratory, according to a statement published today in the medical journal The Lancet. 

"We stand together to strongly condemn conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin,” wrote the 27 authors, citing studies from scientists in multiple countries that have analyzed the virus’ genetic makeup.

These studies "overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife, as have so many other emerging pathogens.”

"Conspiracy theories do nothing but create fear, rumours, and prejudice that jeopardise our global collaboration in the fight against this virus," the scientists wrote in a statement.

What this is about: CNN previously reported statements by Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas this week on Fox News saying that “this virus did not originate in the Wuhan animal market” and implying that it may have started in a laboratory not far away. "We don't have evidence that this disease originated there ... but we at least have to ask the question,” Cotton said.