Coronavirus … Americans from quarantined cruise ship flown from Japan

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Two planes carrying hundreds of US citizens from a coronavirus-hit cruise ship have left Japan, officials say. One plane has landed at a US Air Force air base in California, and its passengers will be isolated at military facilities for 14 days.

There were some 400 Americans on board the Diamond Princess. The ship with some 3,700 passengers and crew has been in quarantine since 3 February. Meanwhile, China reported a total of 2,048 new cases on Monday.

Of those new cases, 1,933 were from Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak. More than 70,500 people across China have been infected by the virus. In Hubei alone, the official number of cases stands at 58,182, with 1,692 deaths. Most new cases and deaths have been reported in Wuhan, Hubei’s largest city.

What’s happening on the Diamond Princess?

The cruise ship was put in quarantine in Japan’s port of Yokohama after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong was found to have the virus.

On Monday, Japanese officials said there were 99 new cases of infections on board the ship, bringing the total to 454 confirmed cases. It is the largest cluster of cases outside China.

A Russian woman who was on board and tested positive is thought to be the first Russian national to contract the virus after the two previous cases found in Russia were Chinese nationals, Reuters news agency reports.

She will be taken to a hospital for treatment, the Russian embassy in Japan said. At least 40 US citizens who were on board are infected and will be treated in Japan, Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told US broadcaster CBS.

The two aircraft chartered by the US government left Tokyo’s Haneda Airport in the early hours of Monday. The second flight was due to land at another base in Texas.

More than 300 passengers are being repatriated voluntarily, the US state department said. Fourteen of them were reported during transit to have tested positive for the virus and were being kept separate from the other passengers, it said.

Those entering the US will undergo a 14-day quarantine, on top of the time they have already spent confined on the ship. « And the reason for that, » Dr Fauci added, « is that the degree of transmissibility, on that cruise ship, is essentially akin to being in a hotspot. »

Some of the Americans have declined to be evacuated, preferring to wait until the ship quarantine comes to an end on 19 February. Passenger Matt Smith, a lawyer, said he would not want to travel on a bus to the plane with possibly infected people.

To assist with relief efforts, Japan’s government has given away 2,000 iPhones to passengers on the ship – one for each cabin. The smartphones were distributed so people could use an app, created by Japan’s health ministry, which links users with doctors, pharmacists and mental health counsellors. Phones registered outside of Japan are unable to access the app.

Other evacuation flights have been arranged to repatriate residents of Israel, Hong Kong and Canada. On Monday, Australia announced that it would evacuate 200 of its citizens too. What is happening in China?
According to official figures for 16 February, 100 people died from the virus in Hubei, down from 139 on Saturday.

The Chinese authorities are tightening curbs on movement to combat the outbreak. People in Hubei province, which has 60 million people, have been ordered to stay at home, though they will be allowed to leave in an emergency.

In addition, a single person from each household will be allowed to leave the building or compound they live in every three days to buy food and essential items.

On housing estates, one entrance will be kept open. It will be guarded to ensure that only residents can enter or leave. All businesses will stay closed, except chemists, hotels, food shops and medical services.

There will be a ban on the use of private cars, but vehicles used for the delivery of essential goods are exempt. China’s central bank will also disinfect and store used banknotes before recirculating them in a bid to stop the virus spreading.

New cases spiked last week after a change in the way they were counted, but have been falling since. National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said the figures showed China was managing to curb the outbreak.

« The effects of epidemic prevention and control in various parts of the country can already be seen. » The proportion of infected patients considered to be in a « serious condition » has dropped nationwide from more than 15% to just over 7%, according to China’s State Council.

Taiwan has reported a death from the illness – a taxi driver, 61, who had not travelled abroad recently but had diabetes and hepatitis B, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said.

The minister said many of his passengers had come from China. Outside China, there have been more than 500 cases in nearly 30 countries. Four others have died outside mainland China – in France, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Japan.

Meanwhile, a plane carrying 175 evacuated Nepalis, mostly students, has arrived in Kathmandu from Wuhan.

The virus is a new strain of coronavirus and causes an acute respiratory disease which has been named Covid-19.

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