Coronavirus Updates: Cruise Ship Passengers, Some Infected, Flown Back to U.S.

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More than 300 Americans were evacuated from a contaminated cruise ship in Japan. Fourteen of them tested positive for the coronavirus and will be placed in isolation in the United States.CreditCredit…Edward A. Ornelas/Getty Images

A day before 328 Americans were to be whisked away from a contaminated cruise ship in Japan, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo told passengers that no one infected with the new coronavirus would be allowed to board charter flights to the United States.

But those plans were hastily changed after the test results for 14 passengers came back positive — just as they were being loaded onto buses and dispatched to the airport, where two reconfigured cargo jets were waiting to fly them to military bases in California and Texas.

After consultations with health experts, the U.S. government decided to let the infected evacuees, who were not yet exhibiting symptoms, board the flights.

The reversal was the latest chaotic turn in a two-week quarantine of the ship, the Diamond Princess, that has become an epidemiological nightmare.

Even as the Americans were flying home and countries like Australia, Canada and South Korea were preparing to evacuate their own citizens, the Japanese Health Ministry announced on Monday that 99 more cases of the coronavirus had been confirmed on the cruise ship, bringing the total to 454.

The infected Americans — who officials said were asymptomatic and “fit to fly” — were moved into a specialized containment area on the evacuation aircraft, where they were isolated and monitored.

All of the evacuated American cruise ship passengers, including those who have tested negative for the virus, will be placed in a further 14-day quarantine.

Those who develop symptoms or later test positive will be sent to “an appropriate location for continued isolation and care,” the State Department and the Department of Health and Human Services said in a joint statement.

With the arrival of the 14 infected passengers from Japan, confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States nearly doubled, to 29.

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Credit…Yuyang Liu for The New York Times

China signaled on Monday that it would postpone the annual session of its Communist Party-dominated legislature because of the coronavirus epidemic, a symbolic blow to a government that typically runs with regimented discipline.

The annual full meeting of the legislature, called the National People’s Congress, is a major event in China’s political cycle. President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and other leaders were expected to lay out their agenda for the year, issue the annual budget and pass major legislation.

Each March, nearly 3,000 delegates gather in the vast Great Hall of the People, next to Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

But delay is now virtually certain, judging from an announcement from the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, which oversees the legislature. The announcement said that the committee will consider vote on Monday on whether to delay the congress.

The National People’s Congress is dominated by Communist Party politicians, and it would be extremely unlikely that the proposal would be up for formal approval unless Mr. Xi had agreed it was necessary.

A postponement would be the first time in recent memory that the annual legislative session has been delayed. Even in 2003, when China was battling SARS, the congress went ahead as usual.

The terse wording of the announcement gave no clue when the congress would convene.

Delaying the congress is unlikely to seriously derail Chinese policymaking, which is controlled by a small circle of party leaders.

Nearly 1,000 passengers and crew members aboard the cruise ship Westerdam in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, were being tested for the coronavirus on Monday, after a passenger who had already disembarked tested positive for the virus, officials said.

The cruise ship operator, Holland America Line, had planned to send all passengers home after a difficult voyage during which the ship was turned away by ports in five countries for fear that someone aboard might have the coronavirus.

  • What do you need to know? Start here.

    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.

With the discovery of the infected passenger — an ailing American woman who was screened at an airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — the exodus of passengers has come to a halt.

Mang Sineth, the deputy governor of Preah Sihanouk Province, said the authorities and medical teams have been collecting samples from everyone left aboard the Westerdam to test for the virus. He said he could not estimate how long the testing would take or when the results would be available.

Holland America insisted during the cruise that all 1,455 passengers and 802 crew members were free of the disease. Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, said on Monday that before anyone left the ship, the temperature of each person aboard was checked and 20 people with mild symptoms were tested for the virus; no fevers and no infections were found.

But when 145 passengers from the ship arrived at the airport in Kuala Lumpur and were screened and tested, one passenger was confirmed to have the virus. The passenger, 83, is now hospitalized along with her husband, 85, who is showing symptoms of the disease but has twice tested negative.

As of Sunday, 601 former passengers were in hotels in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, the World Health Organization said.

One of those passengers, Christina Kerby, said they have been told to stay in their hotel rooms as much as possible, but they have not been barred from going outside or leaving the country.

A Russian court ruled on Monday that a woman who had escaped coronavirus quarantine must be forcibly isolated in a hospital, sending a clear message to all potential escapees and dodgers.

To prevent the virus from taking hold in Russia, the country has closed its roughly 2,600-mile border with China and ordered the quarantine of hundreds of Russian citizens who recently returned from China.

But at least five people have escaped, citing poor conditions at hospitals and frustration over their status.

Alla Ilyina, the woman ordered into isolation on Monday, made headlines in Russia by carrying out an elaborate plan to escape the 14-day quarantine. On Feb. 7, she broke an electromagnetic lock in her room and fled the hospital while doctors attended to an incoming patient.

Mrs. Ilyina tested negative for coronavirus upon her arrival from China. The court ruled that she would have to stay in a hospital for at least two days and get two negative coronavirus tests before she can return home. After the ruling was issued, she was taken by ambulance to the Botkin infectious diseases hospital in St. Petersburg.

Mrs. Ilyina’s lawyer told Interfax, a Russian news agency, that they would appeal the court’s decision.

On Monday, another court in St. Petersburg registered a case against another person who had escaped quarantine in the same hospital. So far, only two people have tested positive for coronavirus in Russia, both of them Chinese nationals. Both have since been released from the hospital.

The only Russian citizen to test positive for the virus so far is aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.

The world’s second-largest economy practically shut down three weeks ago as the coronavirus outbreak sickened tens of thousands of people, unexpectedly lengthening a Chinese holiday.

The freeze set off warnings that the global economy could be in jeopardy if the world’s pre-eminent manufacturing powerhouse stayed shut for long.

Now, as some factories rumble back into action, the monumental task of restarting China is becoming clear. China’s efforts to contain the virus are clashing with its push to get the country back to work, requiring the country’s leaders to strike a balance between keeping people safe and getting vital industries back on track.

Quarantines, blocked roads and checkpoints are stopping millions of workers from returning to their jobs. Supply lines have been severed.

The reopening of businesses means trying to bring together again much of China’s 700 million-strong labor force after what had become a nearly three-week national holiday. China’s containment efforts have effectively carved up the country. At least 760 million people — slightly over half the country’s population — are under various kinds of lockdown.

The coronavirus epidemic has prompted China to reconsider its trade and consumption of wildlife, which has been identified as a probable source of the outbreak.

The practice is driven by desire to flaunt wealth and beliefs about health benefits from products made from certain animals.

Officials drafted legislation to introduce controls and plan to present it at the next preparatory session for the annual National People’s Congress. The details of the proposal are not yet clear, but the goal is to end “the pernicious habit of eating wildlife,” according to a statement released on Monday by the Standing Committee of the congress.

Although the exact origin of the coronavirus is still under investigation, health officials and scientists say it spread outward from a wholesale market in Wuhan where vendors legally sold live animals from crowded stalls in close quarters with meats and vegetables.

The epidemic has inflamed public sentiment that the consumption of animals like reptiles, civets and hedgehogs is fundamentally unsafe.

The trafficking of endangered or threatened wildlife is prohibited in China, but Wang Ruihe, an official with the National People’s Congress, said last week that enforcement was lax.

The new coronavirus, like the one that caused the SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003, has been traced to bats and is believed to have jumped from them to another mammal and then to humans. In the case of SARS, the virus first leapt from bats to civets.

One study has suggested that pangolins, an endangered species whose meat and scales are prized in China, might have been the carrier of the new virus.

The number of new coronavirus cases dropped to a three-week low, according to official data released on Monday. Experts said the dip was largely because of the lockdown measures the Chinese government has imposed on several cities to keep the spread of the virus at bay.

On Monday, the government of China reported 2,048 new infections and 105 deaths over the previous 24 hours. The number of new coronavirus cases reported in China had started to level off around Feb. 6, suggesting that the outbreak might be slowing. But last Thursday, officials added more than 14,840 new cases to the tally of the infected in Hubei Province, the center of the outbreak, after they changed the criteria for diagnosing patients.

The trend suggests that the epidemic that once seemed hopelessly out of control a few weeks ago could be contained — at least, for now.

“The measures taken have been extraordinary and we are seeing the effects,” said Raina MacIntyre, the head of biosecurity research at the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales.

China has sealed off several cities, threatened quarantine violators with stiff punishments and rounded up sick people in mass quarantine centers in Wuhan.

But public health experts caution that the worst is not over.

Some experts view the figures reported by China with some skepticism. The government has a history of covering up data that makes it look bad, and the combination of flawed tests and limited medical resources means some cases would be missed even with the best intentions.

Public health experts say the coronavirus is also highly contagious, more so than the virus that caused the SARS outbreak of 2002-3, and may be more difficult to curtail.

Australia will evacuate more than 200 of its citizens who have been trapped on the cruise ship in Japan, and quarantine them for two more weeks at a mining camp in the northern city of Darwin, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday.

The passengers, many of them elderly, will take a Qantas flight to Australia on Wednesday, he said. New Zealanders on the Diamond Princess will be able to join flight and will be subject to quarantine in Darwin.

The passengers flying out on Wednesday will join more than 200 evacuees from Wuhan, China, the center of the epidemic, who have been housed at the mining camp since last week.

Australia airlifted 242 other people from Wuhan to Christmas Island, where they have been staying for two weeks. Mr. Morrison said they would be released and be able to fly home in the coming hours.

Mr. Morrison acknowledged that some of the cruise ship passengers would be frustrated by the additional two weeks in isolation. American passengers, who were flown from Japan to the United States on Monday morning, voiced distress after they learned that they, too, would face an additional two weeks in quarantine.

But Mr. Morrison emphasized that the spread of infections on the ship — 454 have been confirmed — had forced health officials to take extra precautions.

“Our first responsibility is that we have to protect the health and safety of Australians in Australia today,” he said.

Australia has had 15 cases of the coronavirus, and eight of the patients have now recovered, according to the Australian health minister, Greg Hunt.

Organizers of the Tokyo Marathon, citing the confirmation of a coronavirus case in Tokyo, are limiting the race this year to elite runners, including wheelchair elites, the event announced on its website Monday.

A statement posted on the site said that all registered runners could defer their entry to the 2021 event, but that runners who defer would have to pay again and would not receive refunds for this year’s race. About 38,000 participants had signed up for the race scheduled for March 1. Of that number, 245 are elite runners and 30 are elite wheelchair athletes, Reuters reported.

The Hong Kong Marathon, scheduled for Feb. 9, was canceled as coronavirus cases in the semiautonomous Chinese city increased. Hong Kong now has 57 confirmed coronavirus cases.

Japan’s Imperial Household Agency also canceled birthday celebrations for the emperor, an event within the Imperial Palace that normally draws large crowds in Tokyo. Emperor Naruhito turns 60 on Feb. 23. This would be his first birthday since he became emperor.

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 $100 worth of one of the most sought after commodities in this city of seven million: 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 with 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.

Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, has repeated an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that has spread from small-town China to the right-wing news media in the United States: The new coronavirus originated in a high-security biochemical lab in Wuhan.

In a television interview on Fox News on Sunday, Mr. Cotton suggested that a dearth of information about the origins of the virus raised more questions than answers.

“We don’t know where it originated, and we have to get to the bottom of that,” Mr. Cotton said on the program Sunday Morning Futures. He then raised the possibility that the virus originated in a “biosafety level-4 super laboratory.” Such laboratories are used for research into potentially deadly infectious diseases.

“Now, we don’t have evidence that this disease originated there but because of China’s duplicity and dishonesty from the beginning we need to at least ask the question to see what the evidence says, and China right now is not giving evidence on that question at all,” he added.

The Chinese authorities say the outbreak began in a market in Wuhan where wild animals were sold. The city is also home to a biochemical laboratory.

After receiving criticism for lending credence to what has been largely considered a fringe theory, the senator took to Twitter to say he did not necessarily think the virus was an “engineered bioweapon.”

That idea, he said, was just one of several hypotheses that included the possibility that the outbreak was a “deliberate release.”

He also said it was possible that the virus spread naturally, “but almost certainly not from the Wuhan food market.”

Research and reporting was contributed by Russell Goldman, Austin Ramzy, Ivan Nechepurenko, Steven Lee Myers, Claire Fu, Tiffany May, Richard C. Paddock, Sui-Lee Wee, Alexandra Stevenson, Roni Caryn Rabin, Ben Dooley and Keith Bradsher.

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