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US takes citizens off ‘virus ship’


US takes citizens off ‘virus ship’

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SHANGHAI/BEIJING – American passengers were taken off a cruise liner yesterday to fly home after being quarantined for two weeks off Japan, while China said the rate of new coronavirus cases had slowed, calling that proof its steps to fight the outbreak were working.

The Diamond Princess has been stalled offshore where 3 700 passengers and crew have been held since February 3.

The ship, owned by Carnival Corp., has been held in the Japanese port of Yokohama. Those with the disease have been taken to hospital in Japan and no one from the ship has died. Around half of the guests onboard are from Japan.

Canadian, Italian, South Korean and Hong Kong passengers were expected to follow soon, after their governments also announced plans to repatriate passengers.

US Department of Defence spokesman Chris Mitchell said the department was preparing to receive two chartered evacuation flights with passengers from the ship – one to land at Travis Air Force Base, California and the other at Kelly Field/Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

The evacuees would be subject to a 14-day quarantine managed by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Seventy new coronavirus cases were confirmed on board the Diamond Princess, bringing the total on the ship to 355, by far the largest cluster of cases outside China.

Within China, authorities reported 2 009 new cases yesterday, noting that this was down from more than 2 600 the previous day. They said this showed their efforts to halt the spread of the virus were bearing fruit.

“The effect of the coronavirus controls is appearing,” Mi Feng, spokesman for the Health Commission, told reporters.

The new cases brought the total to 68 500 in mainland China, with 1 665 deaths, including 143 fatalities reported yesterday. Outside China, more than 500 cases have been confirmed, mostly of people who travelled from Chinese cities, with five deaths.

Mi said the proportion of confirmed cases who were critically ill had fallen to 21.6 per cent on Saturday, from 32.4 per cent on January 27. He said this showed the authorities were able to treat patients more quickly, preventing cases from becoming critical.

Declining numbers of reported new infections could mean that the virus was being contained, but could also mean it was running out of susceptible new hosts in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, he said.(Reuters)