Coronavirus Updates: Evacuated Americans Carried Virus From Cruise Ship to Airplane

Fourteen Americans who were evacuated from a cruise ship in Japan on Monday were placed in segregated areas of a chartered flight after they were found to have the new coronavirus shortly before boarding the plane to the United States, American officials said.

The passengers were among more than 300 Americans aboard a cruise ship that was been quarantined in Yokohama for more than 10 days. United States officials initially said they would not allow infected people to board the evacuation flights, but appeared to reverse that decision early Monday.

“During the evacuation process, after passengers had disembarked the ship and initiated transport to the airport, U.S. officials received notice that 14 passengers, who had been tested 2-3 days earlier, had tested positive for COVID-19,” the State Department and Department of Health and Human Services said in a joint statement, referring to the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

The 14 infected passengers were moved into a specialized containment area on the evacuation aircraft, where they were to be isolated and monitored. They had been found to be asymptomatic and “fit to fly” before the evacuation, according to the statement.

At least one flight landed on Monday morning at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, Calif. All passengers on that flight will undergo a 14-day quarantine. Those that develop symptoms or test positive will be sent to “an appropriate location for continued isolation and care,” the statement added.

The United States has 15 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus. That number will nearly double when the 14 infected passengers arrive.

China’s National Health Commission on Monday morning reported 2,048 new cases of coronavirus and 105 new deaths over the previous 24 hours. The death toll dropped from the previous day, when 142 deaths were reported, though the number of new infections remained steady.

  • Updated Feb. 10, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • How worried should I be?
      While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.

The vast majority of cases and deaths have occurred in Hubei Province, where the outbreak began, though the commission’s latest announcement also reported three deaths in neighboring Henan Province and two in Guangdong, the province next to Hong Kong.

In all, more than 70,500 people have been infected in China and 1,770 have died so far. Five others have died outside of mainland China, as of Sunday night.

The cruise ship had been shunned at port after port for fear it might carry the new coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, but when the Westerdam arrived in Cambodia on Thursday, the country’s prime minister greeted its passengers with flowers.

Amid assurances that the ship was free of the virus, hundreds of elated passengers disembarked, traveling to destinations around the world.

One, however, did not make it much farther than the thermal scanners at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The passenger, an American, was stopped on Saturday, and later tested positive for the coronavirus.

With passengers already headed for destinations on at least three continents, health officials are scrambling to determine how a big a problem they now have — and how to stop it from getting bigger.

With more than a thousand passengers from the Westerdam headed for home, experts said, it may be harder than ever to keep the coronavirus outbreak contained to China.

It is unclear how well the passengers were screened before they were allowed off the ship. But the best approach to containing a broader spread of the virus from the Westerdam would be to track down all of the passengers and quarantine them for two weeks, experts said.

Three masked robbers appeared at dawn on Monday outside a Hong Kong supermarket. There, they held a deliveryman at knife point and made off with over a hundred dollars worth of one of the most sought after commodities in this city of seven million people — toilet paper.

Toilet paper has been sold out across the city for weeks after a run on the product was prompted by rumors that manufacturers in mainland China would cease production or that the border would be sealed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Retailers have dispelled the rumor, saying there is no genuine shortage. But bulk packs of toilet paper are snatched off supermarket shelves almost as soon as they are restocked and city blocks are crowded with residents lined up at shops just to buy the product.

So short is the supply that lovers exchanged individual rolls on Valentine’s Day as a sort of pragmatic joke. Online, users have offered to barter surgical masks, which actually are in short supply, for a few rolls of toilet paper. And one hoarder was shamed on social media when neighbors spotted an apartment whose windows were crowded by a wall of toilet paper rolls.

The toilet paper stolen in Monday’s heist was later discovered stashed at a hotel, local news outlets reported, but the perpetrators remain at large. The police said two people had been arrested in connection to the heist, but they were looking for others.

Last week, the police arrested a man charged with stealing eight boxes of heavy-duty face masks, known as N-95 masks, from a parked car after smashing its windows.

Travel restrictions and quarantines imposed in response to the coronavirus epidemic in China have produced a severe shortage of workers that has blocked many factories from returning to full production, an American business group said on Monday afternoon.

A questionnaire late last week by the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai that attracted responses from 109 manufacturers in or near the city in east-central China found that nearly four-fifths of them did not have enough staff to run their production lines at full capacity.

“We’ve got more and more factories getting open, but across the board, everybody is still struggling to find workers,” said Ker Gibbs, the president of the chamber. He cited 14-day quarantines that many cities impose on new arrivals or returnees from other towns and cities.

Almost two-fifths of the companies said they had trouble finding enough face masks to meet local requirements that factories needed to provide them to their workers.

Two-thirds of the companies that chose to respond to the questionnaire had already opened operations by the end of last week, while another fifth of the companies were planning to reopen this week.

The questionnaire had been sent to 612 members of the chamber, for a response rate of 18 percent.

Japan’s economy shrank in the last three months of 2019 after a devastating typhoon and a tax increase on shoppers. Now the coronavirus threatens to put the world’s third-largest economy after the United States and China into its first recession in five years.

Japan’s output shrank at an annual rate of 6.3 percent in the October-to-December period, the government said on Monday. The country’s consumption tax was raised to 10 percent from 8 percent in October, depressing consumer spending. Days after the tax increase went into effect, Typhoon Hagibis slammed into Japan, causing enormous damage and further suppressing economic activity.

Even before that, Japan’s exports had been hit by slowing growth in China, which has been dealing with a trade war with the United States.

Government officials had hoped that these issues would ease in the new year. But that rosy outlook predates the worst of the coronavirus outbreak, which the figures released on Monday don’t reflect. The coronavirus has closed many of the Chinese companies that buy parts and equipment from Japan. It has also stopped the flow of Chinese tourists to Japan.

A recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of shrinkage. Depending on how long the outbreak lasts, the broader global economy could suffer as well.

Research and reporting was contributed by Russell Goldman, Austin Ramzy, Tiffany May, Richard C. Paddock, Sui-Lee Wee, Roni Caryn Rabin, Ben Dooley and Keith Bradsher.

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