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Americans begin evacuation from cruise ship quarantined in Japan

As China confirmed rising COVID-19 death toll, U.S. began evacuating American nationals from quarantined cruise ship in Japan.
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• U.S. begins evacuation of Americans from quarantined cruise ship in Japan

• Death toll from novel coronavirus rises to 1,770

• China's president said he took early action behind the scenes

• China's Hubei bans vehicle traffic to curb spread of coronavirus

• Wuhan's new party chief announces three-day blanket screening of residents

• American woman from cruise ship tests positive again in Malaysia

Death toll on mainland China rises to 1,770

The death toll from COVID-19, an infection caused by the novel coronavirus, continued to rise Sunday, with Chinese health officials reporting another 105 deaths from the respiratory illness.

China's National Health Commission said that 1,770 people have died across mainland China’s 31 provinces since the outbreak began last month.

Most of the latest deaths were in Wuhan, the capital city of Hubei province in central China and the place where the outbreak is thought to have originated. More than 1,900 of 2,048 newly confirmed cases are also in Hubei, the commission said.

Outside the province, the number of confirmed cases has steadily declined over the last 13 days. On Feb. 3, nearly 900 new cases were reported, the commission said in the People’s Daily, the Communist Party's official newspaper. On Saturday, the commission reported 166 new cases.

Also on Sunday, the U.S. State Department said it was investigating reports of an American citizen who was diagnosed with the virus after disembarking from a cruise ship in Cambodia.

A department spokesperson said the ship, which is operated by Carnival Cruises, had remained at sea for a period of quarantine. Passengers who showed symptoms of the illness were tested before leaving the ship last week, and none came back positive.

The passenger, an 83-year-old American woman, had traveled from Cambodia to Malaysia and tested positive after arriving in the country’s capital, Kuala Lumpur. The test was taken Saturday night.

The U.S. State Department spokesperson said American officials are in touch with the person and with local medical officials but declined to provide additional details, citing privacy concerns.

The spokesperson added that there wasn't enough information to determine when and where she was exposed to the virus.

U.S. begins evacuation of Americans from quarantined cruise ship in Japan

American passengers quarantined aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan began evacuating the vessel Sunday to be flown back to the United States.

A letter sent to them by the U.S. embassy in Tokyo Sunday said the U.S. government recommended that the 400 or so American citizens on board disembark from the cruise ship and return to the U.S.

It said the U.S. government had chartered flights that will depart Yokohama, where the ship is docked, to the United States on Sunday.

Image: A bus carries passengers from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan, on Feb. 17, 2020. A group of Americans will travel back to America where they will be quarantined and checked for COVID-19.
A bus carries passengers from the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokohama, Japan, on Feb. 17, 2020.Jae C. Hong / AP

“These charter flights are the only opportunity for eligible passengers to fly to the United States until March 4, 2020, at the earliest,” the letter added. “This date is 14 days after the remaining passengers are expected to depart the ship on Feb. 19.”

Japanese officials said the quarantine aboard the ship is supposed to end on Feb. 19.

The embassy added that no symptomatic or infected passengers will be allowed to board the chartered flights.

Upon return to the U.S., those who choose to take the chartered flights will be quarantined at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California, or Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas, for 14 days.

Those who choose to stay behind on the ship would face “potential constraints that would impact return to the United States in the next two weeks,” the embassy added.

On Sunday, Japan’s health ministry confirmed 70 additional coronavirus cases on board the ship, bringing the total number of those infected on the Diamond Princess to 355. A total of 1,219 passengers and crew members have been tested so far.

The ship, carrying some 3,700 passengers and crew, has been quarantined in Yokohama since Feb. 3 after a passenger, who disembarked in Hong Kong, was later diagnosed with the virus.

The company that owns the cruise ship said Sunday it was canceling all other voyages aboard Diamond Princess until April 20 due to “prolonged quarantine period and the anticipated time to prepare the ship to return to service.” — Arata Yamamoto and Yuliya Talmazan

Death toll from novel coronavirus rises

Almost 1,700 people have now died from the novel coronavirus as the number of people diagnosed with the respiratory illness rose to 68,500, officals at China’s National Health Commission reported Sunday.

As of Saturday a further 142 people had died, bringing the total number of deaths to 1,665, they said, adding that there were 2,009 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 — an infection that the novel coronavirus causes — nationwide.

However, they said that more than 9,400 patients had also been cured and discharged.

Health commission spokesman Mi Feng told a news conference on Sunday that China's campaign again the virus was beginning to show results.

"The effect of the coronavirus controls is appearing," he said.

Increased medical support and preventive measures in Hubei, where coronavirus is believed to have originated, had headed off more critical cases and the proportion of critical cases among confirmed cases had fallen, Mi added.

Mild cases were also being treated more quickly, preventing them from becoming critical, he said. — Dawn Liu and Reuters

China's president says he took behind-the-scenes action in the early days of outbreak

Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a speech published Saturday night by state media that he took behind-the-scenes action in the early days of the COVID-19 epidemic.

In the speech, delivered Feb. 3 but detailed for the first time Saturday, Xi said he gave instructions to officials on fighting the outbreak as early as Jan. 7.

The disclosure came after Chinese leadership was criticized for slow and muted reaction to the COVID-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Officials only notified the public about its potential to spread in late January.

The coronavirus epidemic has become the biggest challenge yet facing President Xi since he became leader of China in 2012. — Associated Press and Dennis Romero

Wuhan's new party chief announces three-day blanket screening of residents

The newly appointed party chief of Wuhan, the city where the outbreak is believed to have originated, said Sunday that the city will undergo a three-day blanket screening to help curb further spread of the coronavirus.

Wang Zhonglin said the three-day action plan is in response to President Xi Jinping's command.

Wang said that without timely location and treatment of patients, officials will be "grimly responsible" for any loss of life.

"In addition, if confirmed cases are not treated in the hospital and remain home, they will cause further spread and thus work against our control measures," he added.

Wang replaced his predecessor Ma Guoqiang last week.

Wuhan has been in lockdown since Jan. 23, with no transport systems operating and millions of its residents hunkered down in their homes. — Alex Shi

China's Hubei bans vehicle traffic to curb spread of coronavirus

The government of Hubei province, where the respiratory illness is believed to have developed, said Sunday that a ban will be imposed on vehicle traffic across the province to curb the spread of the virus.

Police cars, ambulances, vehicles carrying essential goods, or other vehicles related to public service would be exempted, it said on its official website.

It added that epidemic prevention staff will carry out regular "blanket screenings" of all residents so as to “not leave out any household, anyone or any day."

Those who refuse to cooperate will be dealt with by law enforcement, the statement on the website said.

Companies will also not be able to resume work without first receiving permission from the government, it added. — Alex Shi and Reuters

American woman from cruise ship tests positive again in Malaysia

An American woman who was aboard a cruise ship that disembarked in Cambodia on Friday has tested positive for coronavirus for a second time.

The 83-year-old had been traveling on the MS Westerdam which was refused entry to several countries including Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines and Thailand, before it was eventually allowed to dock in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.

After the woman traveled to the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, she tested positive for the respiratory illness. She was the first person on the ship, which was carrying 1,455 passengers and 802 crew, to test positive.

Cruise ship operator Holland America Inc. sought more tests, and Cambodian authorities called on Malaysia to review its test results.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Waz Azizah Wan Ismail said the American woman was retested late Saturday, and she tested positive again. However, her husband tested negative.

Holland America said in a statement Sunday that no other guests or crew, either on board or on their way home, have reported any symptoms of the illness.

"Guests who have already returned home will be contacted by their local health department and be provided further information," the company said. — Reuters and Cristian Santana