US evacuates citizens from Japan virus ship as China death passes 1700

PHOTO: US passengers board a plane at Tokyo's Haneda Airport to fly home after they left the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship off Yokohama - AFP

Some US citizens from the cruise ship Diamond Princess, currently quarantined off the coast of Japan, have been evacuated and flown home, where they face a further 14 day quarantine. Other nations are preparing to follow suit as global concern grows over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, and the death toll at its epicentre in China topped 1,700. More than 70,500 in China have been infected by the flu-like disease, which has sparked panic buying and jitters over the global economic impact.

The Diamond Princess represents the biggest cluster of infections outside of China. Cases have climbed to 355, despite passengers being confined to their cabins. Governments are scrambling to repatriate their citizens amid growing criticism of Japan’s handling of the crisis, with Canada, Australia, Italy, Israel and Hong Kong all poised to evacuate their citizens.

This morning, a convoy of buses driven by people in protective suits removed American passengers from the ship after a makeshift passport control. There were no health checks at that point, said one US passenger, a 52 year old medical social worker, who complained that the US government “should have acted much sooner, at the beginning.”

“I am happy and ready to go. We need a proper quarantine. This was not it.”

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The US embassy in Japan has confirmed two jets had left Japan en route to the US. Those on board expected to undergo a further 14-day quarantine period on US soil.

But some Americans on the ship declined to go. An American lawyer on the ship with his wife tweeted:

“My health is fine. And my two-week quarantine is almost over. Why would I want to be put on a bus and a plane with other people they think may be infected when I have spent nearly two weeks isolated from those people?”

He described a fellow American standing on her balcony chanting “USA, USA” as buses arrived to collect them.

“Of course, in contravention of the rules of quarantine, she’s not wearing a face mask, and she’s talking with a passenger on the adjacent balcony… And you wanted me to get on a bus with her?”

Forty US passengers tested positive for the virus and were rushed to hospitals in Japan, according to Anthony Fauci, a senior official at the National Institutes for Health. It isn’t clear if they were already counted among the 355 known cases on the ship.

Chinese authorities have placed about 56 million people in Hubei province and its capital Wuhan under quarantine, virtually sealing off the province from the rest of the country and the world in an unprecedented effort to contain the virus. New cases outside the central province have been steadily declining for the last thirteen days. There were 115 fresh cases outside the central province — sharply down from nearly 450 a week ago.

Chinese authorities are quick to point to the slowing rise as proof their measures to stem the spread are working, even as the death toll climbed to 1,770.

But World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned it is “impossible to predict which direction this epidemic will take.”

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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