Another 67 people test positive for coronavirus on cruise ship in Japan

Latest developments:

  • More than 2,600 new cases confirmed in China, with deaths up by 143. 
  • WHO says team of international experts will arrive in China this weekend.
  • Japan confirms 12 Canadians on cruise ship infected with novel coronavirus.
  • U.S. aircraft to arrive Sunday to take Americans from quarantined ship in Japan.
  • WATCH: What we know about the coronavirus

Another 67 people have tested positive for the coronavirus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said on Saturday.

The United States said earlier on Saturday it would send an aircraft to Japan to bring back U.S. passengers on the quarantined Diamond Princess, where the biggest cluster of infections outside China has occurred. About 380 American are on board the ship, docked in the port city of Yokohama.

The United States urged its citizens on the ship to leave, “out of an abundance of caution,” on a special flight due in Japan on Sunday, although they will face quarantine for another 14 days upon return, the U.S. embassy said in a letter.

“We understand this is frustrating and an adjustment, but these measures are consistent with the careful policies we have instituted to limit the potential spread of the disease,” the embassy said.

The ship owned by Carnival Corp has been quarantined since its arrival in Yokohama on Feb. 3. Of its 3,500 passengers and crew, 285 have tested positive 
for the infection.

Japan’s Health Ministry allowed 11 passengers to disembark on Friday. It said passengers above 80 years of age, those with underlying medical conditions and those who stayed in windowless cabins during the 14-day quarantine can move to a facility on shore.

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister  Francois-Philippe Champagne on Friday that Canadian health workers are assisting in Japan after 12 Canadians contracted the novel coronavirus while on the cruise ship.

New presumptive case in B.C.

Canada has an eighth presumptive case of coronavirus, British Columbia health officials said on Friday, a woman in her 30s from the B.C. Interior who recently travelled to China. There have been four confirmed cases in B.C. and three others in Ontario, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. The risk to Canadians remains low, the agency said. 

China reported 143 virus deaths and a dip in new cases Saturday while the government announced new anti-disease measures as businesses reopen following sweeping controls that idled much of the economy.

Number of new cases down in China 

Some 2,641 new cases of the virus were reported in the 24 hours through midnight Friday, raising the total to 66,492. Mainland China’s death toll rose to 1,523.

The number of new cases was down from the 5,090 in the previous 24-hour period after authorities changed the basis for counting patients. Health experts say that will make it harder to judge the effectiveness of anti-disease controls that have cut off most access to some major cities and closed factories and offices.

Numbers of new cases have fluctuated over the past two weeks. That fuelled optimism the disease that first emerged in December might be under control and warnings such hopes are premature.

An elderly Chinese tourist hospitalized in France has died of the coronavirus, becoming the first fatality in Europe, French Health Minister Agnes Buzyn said on Saturday. France has recorded 11 cases of the virus. Buzyn said she was informed on Friday that the 80-year old man, who was treated at the Bichat hospital in northern Paris since Jan. 25, had died of a lung infection due to the coronavirus.

Outside mainland China, there have been about 500 cases in  24 countries and territories. Until the death in France, there had been three deaths outside mainland China, with one in Japan, one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines. On Friday, Egypt reported the first infection on the African continent.

The government announced measures aimed at preventing the virus from spreading as millions of workers crowd into planes, trains and buses to return to densely populated Chinese cities following the Lunar New Year holiday.

The holiday was extended to keep factories and offices closed, but officials have been ordered to revive business activity as economic losses mount.

Most access to the central city of Wuhan, where the first cases were reported in December, was suspended Jan. 23. Controls spread to cities with a total population of 60 million people. Restaurants, cinemas and other businesses were closed nationwide to prevent crowds from gathering.

Under the new measures, people returning to Beijing will have to isolate themselves at home for 14 days, said a notice published by state media late Friday. It said people who fail to comply will face legal consequences but gave no details.

WHO mission to China

A WHO-led joint mission with China will start its outbreak investigation work this weekend, focusing on how the new coronavirus is spreading and its severity.

On Thursday, the number of new cases reported by authorities in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, spiked to 15,152.

That included 13,332 that were diagnosed with doctors’ analyses and lung imaging instead of the previous standard of laboratory testing. Health authorities said the new method would facilitate earlier treatment.

More temporary hospitals opening

Nine more temporary hospitals have opened in gymnasiums and other public buildings, with 6,960 beds in Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, the National Health Commission announced. It said they were treating 5,606 patients with mild symptoms.

Meanwhile, the ruling Communist Party is trying to restore public confidence following complaints that leaders in Wuhan, where the outbreak has hit hardest, suppressed information about the disease. The party faced similar criticism after the 2002-03 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

The party should “strengthen areas of weakness and close up loopholes” after the epidemic exposed “shortcomings and deficiencies,” President Xi Jinping said at a meeting of party leaders Friday, according to state media.

The ruling party has replaced officials in charge of Hubei and Wuhan and tried to deflect criticism by allowing state media and members of the public online to criticize local officials.

Last month, residents of Wuhan shared videos online showing people being turned away from crowded hospitals. Some said on the popular Sina Weibo microblog service that family members showed symptoms but couldn’t get tests.

Anti-disease measures are causing losses so severe that economic forecasters have cut their outlooks for China’s growth this year.

The state-owned banking industry has provided more than 537 billion yuan ($77 billion US) in credit to industries such as retail, catering and tourism that have been hurt most, according to Liang Tao, vice chairman of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission.

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