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China’s coronavirus death toll hits 563 as Hong Kong, Japan quarantine 2 cruise ships


China on Thursday reported 73 more deaths from a new virus, raising its total to 563, as the World Health Organization appealed for more funds to help countries battle the spread of the disease that led health officials in Asia to quarantine two cruise ships with some 5,400 people on board.

The ships in Japan and Hong Kong are caught up in a global health emergency that seems to worsen by the day.

In the port city of Yokohama, just outside Tokyo, health workers said 10 more people from the Diamond Princess were confirmed sickened with the virus, in addition to 10 others who tested positive on Wednesday.

The 10 will be dropped off as the ship docks and transferred to nearby hospitals for further test and treatment.

The 3,700 people on board faced a two-week quarantine in their cabins. The ship had 2,666 passengers and 1,045 crew members. More tests are pending on 171 others who had symptoms or had contact with a man who was diagnosed with the virus after leaving the ship in Hong Kong, the Health Ministry said.

The 3,600 people aboard the Hong Kong ship were also being screened after three passengers on a previous voyage were diagnosed with the virus. The territory’s beleaguered leader, Carrie Lam, announced that two terminals — including one where the cruise ship is currently quarantined — will be shut down.

The director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Wednesday asked for US$675 million to help countries address the expected spread of the virus. He acknowledged that the sum is a lot, but told a news briefing that “it’s much less than the bill we will face if we do not invest in preparedness now.”

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Tedros said that in the last 24 hours, the U.N. health agency has seen the biggest jump in cases since the start of the epidemic. According to the latest figures early Thursday, the number of confirmed cases jumped by 3,694 to 28,018.

Outside mainland China, at least 230 cases have been confirmed, including two fatalities, one in Hong Kong and another in the Philippines.

China has strongly defended its epidemic control measures and called on other nations not to go overboard in their responses. Countries “can assess the epidemic situation in an objective, fair, calm and rational manner, respect authoritative and professional WHO recommendations, understand and support China’s epidemic control efforts,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chenying said at an online news conference. “Fear is worse than any virus.”

As thousands of hospital workers in Hong Kong went on strike to demand the border with mainland China be closed completely, the city announced that all people entering from the mainland, including Hong Kong residents, must be quarantined for 14 days. Tokyo Olympics organizers, meanwhile, said they are increasingly worried about the disruption the virus is causing ahead of the games, which open in less than six months.

To reduce the danger of exposure for health workers, Beijing is seeking to develop a robot to administer throat tests. Separately, Shanghai announced that all schools will delay reopening until at least the end of February, rather than the middle of the month as originally planned. The exact date will depend on how the outbreak develops.

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