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Coronavirus death toll rises to 490 in China as Japan confirms 10 cases on cruise ship


Japan said Wednesday 10 people on a cruise ship have tested positive for a new virus and were being taken to hospitals.

Health Minister Nobukatsu Kato said all the 3,700 people and passengers on the ship will be quarantined on board for up to 14 days under Japanese law. The 10 are among 273 people tested after one man who got off the ship in Hong Kong was confirmed to have the virus.

Some tests are still pending. Those tested either had a cough or fever, which are symptoms of the new coronavirus, or had close contact with the man who stopped in Hong Kong. But the transmission isn’t clear, and the others may have gotten the virus when they got off the ship at other port calls in Vietnam, Taiwan, Kagoshima and Okinawa. The ship returned to Yokohama, near Tokyo, Monday.

The new coronavirus has infected thousands in mainland China and caused scattered cases in Hong Kong and other places, mostly associated with travel to the central Chinese region where the outbreak has been most severe.

Deaths from the new virus rose to 490 in mainland China Wednesday and the number of new cases increased to 24,324, as China moved patients into newly built or converted hospitals in the hardest-hit city of Wuhan.

In Hong Kong, hospitals workers are striking to demand that the border with mainland China be shut completely to ward off the virus that caused its first death in the territory. But four new cases of the virus without known travel to the mainland have been reported, indicating community transmission.

The growing caseload in Hong Kong “indicates significant risk of community transmission” and could portend a “large-scale” outbreak, said Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the communicable disease branch at the Center for Health Protection.

More than 7,000 health workers joined the strike Tuesday, according to the Hospital Authority Employees’ Alliance, the strike organizer. Hospitals said they had to cut some services due to the absences.

Hong Kong was hit hard by the 2002-2003 outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, a virus from the same family as the current outbreak. Trust in Chinese authorities has plummeted following months of anti-government protests in the Asian financial hub.

The territory’s beleaguered leader, Carrie Lam, criticized the strike and said the government was doing all it could to limit the flow of people across the border. Almost all land and sea links have been closed, but the striking workers want it shut completely.

“Important services, critical operations have been affected,” including cancer treatment and care for newborns, Lam told reporters. “So I’m appealing to those who are taking part in this action: Let’s put the interests of the patients and the entire public health system above all other things.”

With Wuhan cut-off by rail, air and road, the U.S. government was organizing additional evacuation flights for its citizens still in city Thursday.


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