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44 Americans on Princess Cruise Ship Confirmed to Have Coronavirus

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44 Americans on Princess Cruise Ship Confirmed to Have Coronavirus

2020-02-17 21:39:351 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: Diamond Princess Cruise Ship Being Evacuated (Image: Screenshot)

While it's good news for China, it's not for other regions and especially not for cruise passengers who have recently been to China. The progression of the spread of coronavirus has slowed in China, but there are thousands of cases being diagnosed throughout the world. One cruise ship, in particular, has found that 44 Americans on board are confirmed to have the virus, while another that has been stranded but thought to not contain any virus has been determined to have at least one confirmed case. 

While these diagnoses are being made, efforts are in place to get non-stricken passengers home to the United States and off the ships where they have been stranded and quarantined for weeks.

On Sunday night, amidst the announcement that 44 Americans on the Diamond Princess cruise ship had coronavirus, the U.S. government evacuated non-stricken Americans from the cruise ship that had been quarantined and docked in Tokyo since February 5. They were flown out on two chartered planes and headed to military bases in the U.S. where they will face yet another quarantine. 

The 44 Americans who tested positive for the virus will stay back in Japan, recovering in hospitals, according to Anthony Fauci, the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Another cruise ship, Holland America's Westerdam, had been stranded, with no ports willing to accept the ship. Passengers were finally allowed to disembark in Cambodia, and just days later, an 83-year-old woman tested positive for coronavirus. This is despite the assumption that the ship was free of the virus, leading to passengers being allowed to disembark and travel home. 

Infectious disease experts say this shows how the virus could be quietly introduced to new regions. Up until the 83-year-old woman was diagnosed, the focus was on people who had traveled to China and those who had been in contact with an infected person. This shows they may need to watch the situation from a wider perspective.

"This illustrates there is transmission occurring in unexpected places that we're not aware of," explained the health officer and chief of communicable disease epidemiology section, Jeff Duchin, at Seattle and King County health department. "The virus is moving very quickly and silently and presents a real challenge to containment." 

Yet, he added that the reported cases that have been diagnosed outside of China are still not large scale at this point. Those working to control the virus need to focus their work on where it will have the greatest impact, meaning China.

"But increasingly, we are seeing it pop up in other parts of the world and in other settings," continued Duchin, "and that makes it difficult for us as a country to know when someone who may have been exposed outside of China enters the United States." 

The coronavirus is difficult to keep under control because the symptoms usually appear mild, and it may take up to 14 days before the symptoms show themselves, yet a person affected can be infecting others within that 14 days.

While the majority of cases have been diagnosed in China, the World Health Organization has reported 680 confirmed cases and three deaths in 26 countries. Inside China, 70,500 cases and 1,770 deaths have been reported. 

Chinese officials believe their efforts are working to control the virus. The central region has declared "wartime measures," only allowing residents to leave their homes at certain times and with approval from authorities. Guards in Hubei are required to check identification, and driving is banned for nonessential purposes.

"The effects of our counter-coronavirus measures in every part of the country are already becoming apparent," said Mi Feng, a Chinese National Health Commission spokesman. 

Taiwan reported its first coronavirus death on Sunday. The man was in his 60s and had diabetes and hepatitis but had not traveled overseas. They're still investigating how he could have contracted the virus.

Cambodia's health minister warned the public to "not be overly afraid" but take protective measures. Charter flights that were scheduled to take Westerdam passengers to Kuala Lumpur that night were canceled by Malaysian authorities. 

The 2,200 crew and passengers were stranded for weeks after they stopped in Hong Kong and picked up new passengers. Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Guam did not allow them to dock after this. Cambodia welcomed them on Friday and allowed them to disembark as an act of humanitarian goodwill.

U.S. ambassador to Cambodia W. Patrick Murphy brought his family on the Westerdam and posed for pictures on Saturday with American passengers. No one appeared to be wearing masks in the photos that were shared of this event. 

Holland America said in a Sunday statement that no other passengers or crew reported any coronavirus symptoms. About 1,000 people are still on the ship, while the rest are voyaging home.

Diamond Princess passengers faced a decision of staying on the ship until February 19 when the original quarantine ran out but risk being stuck in Japan because of restrictions on commercial flights or leave on the chartered flights Sunday night and be faced with another 14-day quarantine in Texas and California military bases. 300 of the 400 Americans still on the ship disembarked on Sunday.  

The coronavirus cases among the 3,700 passengers and crew who were originally on board the Diamond Princess has risen sharply. There are 355 confirmed cases aboard the ship, according to Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato, equaling about 30 percent of the people tested so far, making it one of the highest infection rates.

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