Coronavirus Updates: Infected Americans Evacuated from Cruise Ship and Flown to U.S.

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 coronavirus would be allowed to board charter flights to the United States.

But those plans were hastily changed when 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 there 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 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 initially tested negative for the virus, will be placed in a further 14-day quarantine.

Those who develop symptoms or 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.

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, with clockwork regularity, nearly 3,000 delegates gather in the grandiose 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 delaying the congress.

  • 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 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 severe acute respiratory syndrome, or 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.

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.

Nearly 1,000 passengers and crew members aboard the Westerdam cruise ship 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.

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. 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.

Hundreds of other passengers have made it to Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital but are now sequestered in hotels, where they are being tested.

Christina Kerby, a former passenger who is now with hundreds of others at a Phnom Penh hotel, said they have been told to stay in their rooms as much as possible, but they have not been barred from going outside or leaving the country.

“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 has an incentive to underreport the figures.

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

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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