TOKYO – Two planes carrying Americans from the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess have left Japan.
The aircraft chartered by the US government departed Tokyo’s Haneda Airport in the early hours of Monday, Kyodo news agency reported.
There were some 400 Americans on board the ship, which has been held since 3 February due to infections from the new coronavirus which has hit China.
At least 40 US citizens are infected and will be treated in Japan.
The Diamond Princess has been quarantined in Japan’s port of Yokohama with some 3,700 passengers and crew on board.
The ship was held after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong was found to have the virus.
It has the largest cluster of coronavirus cases outside China. The Japanese authorities on Sunday said the number of new cases on board the ship had risen by 70 to 355.
The Americans who are infected will receive medical treatment in Japan, Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told Face the Nation on CBS.
It is not clear exactly how many are on board the evacuation flights which are expected to take them to Air Force bases.
“If people on the plane start to develop symptoms, they’ll be segregated within the plane,” Dr Fauci said.
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,” Dr Fauci added, “is that the degree of transmissibility, on that cruise ship, is essentially akin to being in a hotspot.”
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.
Other evacuation flights will repatriate residents of Israel, Hong Kong and Canada.
In the meantime, 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.
What is happening in China?
According to official figures for 16 February, 100 people died from the virus in Hubei, the province at the centre of the epidemic. This was down from 139 on Saturday.
A total of 2048 new cases were reported across the country on Monday – 1,933 of which were from Hubei.
More than 70,500 people nationwide have already been infected by the virus. In Hubei alone, the official number of cases currently stands at 58,182, with 1,692 deaths.
Most new cases and deaths have been reported in Wuhan, Hubei’s largest city.
Authorities are tightening curbs on movement to combat the outbreak. People in the province of 60 million 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 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.
There will be a ban on the use of private cars, but vehicles used for the delivery of essential goods are exempt.
Meanwhile, authorities in the capital, Beijing, 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.
What is the latest on cases?
New cases spiked earlier in the week after a change in the way they were counted but have been falling ever since. In total, more than 68,500 people have so far been infected in China.
National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said the figures showed China was managing to curb the outbreak.
“The effects of epidemic prevention and control in various parts of the country can already be seen.”
The commission’s daily bulletin also reported 142 more deaths nationwide, the vast majority in Hubei.
However Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that along with a drop in infections within Hubei there had been a rapid increase in the number of people who had recovered.
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 China – in France, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Japan.
Meanwhile, a plane carrying 175 evacuated Nepalis, mostly students, has arrived in Kathmandu from Wuhan. It is the latest country to fly its citizens out of Hubei province.
The virus is a new strain of coronavirus and causes an acute respiratory disease which has been named Covid-19. – BBC