Large white sheets covering them head-to-knee, people infected with a new virus were led by gloved and masked officials Wednesday off a Japanese cruise ship, while the rest of the 3,700 people on board faced a two-week quarantine in their cabins. In Hong Kong, more than 3,600 people on another cruiser were to be screened after it was banned by Taiwan amid growing worry about the spread of an outbreak.
The ships are caught up in a global health emergency that seems to worsen by the day. The little-understood coronavirus has killed nearly 500 people, mostly in mainland China, but it has also spread panic and anger around the world as the cases grow.
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.
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 on Wednesday. “Fear is worse than any virus.”
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 mid-month as originally planned. The exact date will depend on how the outbreak develops.
As examples of anti-Asian discrimination mount, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed for “international solidarity” and support for China and other countries hurt by the virus. He urged a stop to any stigmatization of innocent people.
In the port city of Yokohama, just outside Tokyo, health workers, some in protective white jumpsuits, transferred 10 patients from the Diamond Princess cruise ship to a Japanese coast guard boat next to it. The 10, covered in sheets to protect their identities from cameras, were taken to a dock and put on ambulances bound for hospitals for treatment in isolation.
Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said all the people on board will be quarantined on the ship for up to 14 days under Japanese law. The ship had 2,666 passengers and 1,045 crew members. Tests were pending on 273 people who had symptoms or had contact with a man who was diagnosed with the virus after leaving the ship in Hong Kong.
Paul and Jacqui Fidrmuc from the Australian city of Cairns told Australia’s Nine Network that they are grateful they have a balcony in the cabin where they’re confined.
“We’re here for a long haul. I think it is going to get a little bit testing, obviously. But I don’t know. What do we do? We couldn’t jump out of the boat; that’s a bit cold,” Jacqui Fidrmuc said.
David Abel, another Australian, told the network he hadn’t eaten since the previous night. “I’m a diabetic and I’m insulin dependent. If I do not receive food soon, I will be in a diabetic coma, but it’ll be too bloody late.”
The Hong Kong ship passengers were being screened after three passengers on a previous voyage were diagnosed with the virus. The territory’s beleaguered leader, Carrie Lam, also announced that two terminals _ including the terminal where the cruise ship is currently under quarantined _ will be shut down.