Hong Kong became the second place outside mainland China to report a fatality from the coronavirus outbreak after China reported 425 deaths, bringing the overall toll to 427. Chinese officials reported a total of 20,438 confirmed cases of infection – an increase of 3,235 from Monday, the biggest daily jump since the National Health Commission began releasing statistics. Almost 3,000 of the infected are in critical condition.
Hundreds of Americans were evacuated from Wuhan on a pair of U.S. charter flights that took off from the coronavirus hot zone Tuesday night, the State Department said.
The passengers will arrive in the United States ON Wednesday and will be quarantined for 14 days.
Medical staffers will monitor the health of the travelers, checking their temperatures and examining them for respiratory symptoms. Medical care will be readily available at the first signs of illness.
“The Department of State has no higher priority than the welfare and safety of U.S. citizens abroad,” a State Department spokesperson said in an email.
The U.S. government has evacuated more than 500 passengers from China, according to the State Department. The first of three evacuation flights left Jan. 29. All travelers were screened for symptoms at the airport before they departed.
The military quarantined 195 people from the first evacuation flight at March Air Reserve Base in California.
“We do not believe these people pose a risk to the communities where they are being temporarily housed as we are taking measures to minimize any exposure,” Nancy Messonnier, the top CDC official overseeing the coronavirus response, said at a briefing for reporters Monday.
The Pentagon said Monday that it was prepared to use four military bases to house up to 1,000 additional people who may need to be quarantined after traveling overseas. The bases are the 168th Regiment, Regional Training Institute in Fort Carson in Colorado; Travis Air Force Base in California; Lackland Air Force Base in Texas; and Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California.
Meanwhile, 10 people aboard a cruise ship anchored off the coast of Yokohama, Japan, tested positive for the new coronavirus, Japanese media reported Tuesday.
All the infected passengers were in their 50s or older, with some in their 80s, Japan’s health and labor minister said, according to the news agency Jiji.
The roughly 3,500 passengers and crew members aboard the British-flagged ship, the Diamond Princess, have been quarantined for more than a day after a traveler from Hong Kong was diagnosed with the new coronavirus.
The infected passenger embarked from Yokohama on Jan. 20 and disembarked in Hong Kong on Jan. 25, Princess Cruises said in a statement Tuesday. During that time, he did not visit the ship’s medical center or report any symptoms, according to the company. Six days after leaving, he tested positive for the coronavirus in a Hong Kong hospital, Princess Cruises said.
Japanese health officials began screening passengers Monday night, focusing on those showing symptoms and others who had contact with potentially infected people, according to NHK, Japan’s public broadcasting network.
“The safety, security and well-being of all guests and crew is our absolute priority,” Princess Cruises said. “The review of the arriving guests and crew, by Japanese health authorities, is standard practice after a guest tested positive for coronavirus and we are working closely with the local authorities to provide detailed records to facilitate their review.”
The rest of the Diamond Princess passengers and crew remained on lockdown abord the ship, according to the British news outlet ITV. Most people self-quarantined in their rooms while they awaited medical checks, passengers told the station.
One passenger, David Abel, said he had to cancel a Monday night flight back to Oxfordshire after the ship was denied permission to dock.
“The ship is like a ghost town,” he told ITV. “It’s really weird.”
In Canada, a fifth person has tested positive, Canadian public health officials said Tuesday.
The woman, who is in her 50s, lives in the Vancouver area and began feeling ill a few days ago, said Bonnie Henry, the health officer for British Columbia. She is now in isolation at home and in stable condition.
The woman had been in contact with a “small group” of family members who are visiting from Wuhan. Public health officials are investigating whether any of them have symptoms of the illness.
Henry said that the woman’s family members left Wuhan before the Chinese government imposed travel restrictions and that they have been minimizing their contact with people outside the home.
“This case is not unexpected,” she said. “It tells us that our system is working.”
A Jamaica-bound flight turned around in midair Monday and returned to Toronto after a passenger claimed to be infected with coronavirus. Morgan Bell, a spokesman for WestJet Airlines, told Agence France-Presse that the flight changed its path “due to an unruly guest.”
“Out of an abundance of caution, our crew followed all protocols for infectious disease on board, including sequestering an individual who made an unfounded claim regarding coronavirus,” Bell said.
The passenger, a 29-year-old from Ontario, was arrested and charged with mischief after the plane landed.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that state labs can use a new diagnostic test developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to check people for the coronavirus, greatly enhancing the capacity to detect the disease.
The FDA’s emergency use authorization allows public health labs labs across the country to use the test, which CDC scientists sent to the FDA for approval Monday. The move will speed up testing, which, until Tuesday, had all taken place at CDC headquarters in Atlanta.
“Since this outbreak first emerged, we’ve been working closely with our partners across the U.S government and around the globe to expedite the development and availability of critical medical products to help end this outbreak as quickly as possible,” FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said in a statement. “This continues to be an evolving situation and the ability to distribute this diagnostic test to qualified labs is a critical step forward in protecting the public health.”
The FDA said the test was especially important because there are no commercially available diagnostic tests cleared or approved by the agency.
“This is an unprecedented situation and we have taken aggressive measures,” Nancy Messonnier, the top official overseeing the CDC response, said Monday. “The goal is to slow this thing down before it gets into the United States.”
Other diagnostic developers have sought similar emergency use authorizations related to the coronavirus outbreak, according to the FDA.
“The FDA, among other steps, is providing its highest level of attention to helping expedite the development and review of a variety of medical products being developed to diagnose, treat and prevent the spread of this outbreak,” the agency said.
In Washington, House Democrats said the Trump administration should seek emergency funding from Congress to respond to the coronavirus outbreak.
In a letter Tuesday, House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., say it’s clear that “further resources will be necessary to support an aggressive and comprehensive government-wide response to the 2019 novel Coronavirus, both domestically and internationally.”
Their letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar urges President Donald Trump to submit a supplemental spending request in his upcoming budget proposal for 2021, due Monday.
The Democrats’ recommendation comes after the HHS notified Congress on Sunday that it may need to transfer up to $136 million to help combat the virus. The notification came with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quickly burning through $105 million that was set aside for emergency public-health responses to diseases such as the coronavirus.
The Democrats say the administration should request additional funding to cover needs including enhanced screening at ports of entry; repatriation of U.S. citizens; surveillance, epidemiology and laboratory capacity; research and development of vaccines and other countermeasures; and direct assistance to state and local health departments.
The administration significantly increased its response to the outbreak Friday, when the HHS declared the coronavirus a public health emergency and instituted new travel restrictions and quarantines.
A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said the administration is taking all necessary steps to “contain and mitigate” the coronavirus with funding that’s already available.
“Any discussion of a supplemental at this time is premature, but the administration is continually analyzing resource needs, and we will of course work with them if the time comes where we need additional funding,” the official said.
(c) 2020, The Washington Post · Anna Fifield, , Derek Hawkins, Siobhán O’Grady