Two planes carrying hundreds of US citizens from a coronavirus-hit cruise ship in Japan have arrived in the US.
One plane landed at a US Air Force air base in California and the other in Texas. Passengers will be isolated at military facilities for 14 days.
There were about 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.
In other developments:
- In Japan, a public gathering to celebrate the birthday of new Emperor Naruhito later this week has been cancelled, due to concerns over the spread of the virus
- Also in Japan, organisers of the Tokyo marathon due to take place on 1 March have cancelled the amateur part of the race, affecting some 38,000 runners, after cases of the virus were confirmed in Tokyo. Only elite runners will be allowed to take part
- In China, the National People’s Congress standing committee said it would meet next week to discuss a delay of this year’s Congress – the Communist Party’s most important annual gathering – because of the outbreak
- At the weekend, an American woman tested positive for the virus in Malaysia after leaving a cruise liner docked off the coast of Cambodia
- A Russian court has ordered a woman who escaped from a quarantine facility to go back and stay there until she is confirmed to be disease-free, Fontanka news agency reports. Alla Ilyina has until Wednesday to return
What will happen to the repatriated US passengers?
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 is that the degree of transmissibility, on that cruise ship, is essentially akin to being in a hotspot,” 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.
More than 300 passengers were 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.
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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.
we would like to just finish the quarantine on the ship as planned, decompress in a non-quarantine environment in Japan for a few days, then fly back to the U.S. pursuant to our own arrangements. What’s wrong with that?
— Matthew Smith (@mjswhitebread) February 15, 2020
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 Fauci said.
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. The UK also said it was considering organising an evacuation flight.
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.
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There will be a ban on the use of private cars, but vehicles used for the delivery of essential goods are exempt.
In the Chinese capital, Beijing, authorities have ordered everyone returning to the city to go into quarantine for 14 days or risk punishment.
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.
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“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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