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Coronavirus news – live: Japan struggles to defend cruise ship response after highest number of cases after China reported on board

Follow the latest updates

Samuel Osborne
Wednesday 19 February 2020 12:50 GMT
Eight patients who tested positive for coronavirus released from hospital

Britons quarantined on a coronavirus-hit cruise ship in Japan will be evacuated “as soon as possible,” the government has announced.

“We hope the flight will be later this week,” the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said, as some passengers were allowed to leave the ship after two weeks in isolation.

It came as the death toll from the virus, known as Covid-19, passed 2,000 in mainland China, with over 74,000 cases reported.

Follow the latest updates


Britons on quarantined ship to be evacuated 'as soon as possible'


Passengers look out from the cruise ship Diamond Princess at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, Japan (REUTERS/Kim Kyung-hoon)

Britons on a coronavirus-hit cruise ship in Japan will be evacuated "as soon as possible," the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has announced.

"We are planning an evacuation flight from Tokyo to the UK as soon as possible for Britons who are on the Diamond Princess," an FCO spokesman said.

"We hope the flight will be later this week, subject to permissions from the Japanese authorities."

The FCO said some passengers had been allowed to leave the ship.

"At 0700 local time on Wednesday (10pm Tuesday, UK time), the Diamond Princess cruise operator and Japanese authorities allowed passengers to disembark from the cruise ship," the spokesman added.

"However there is a chance that people who disembark will not be able to join the evacuation flight.

"We have the utmost concern for the affected Britons and strongly encourage them to register for the evacuation flight."

Samuel Osborne19 February 2020 08:09

Cruise passengers who are not taking government repatriation flights will begin to disembark the Diamond Princess today, a spokesperson for Princess Cruises has said.

"According to the Japanese Ministry of Health, the disembark process for those individuals who are not taking government repatriation flights will start today," they said.

"The disembark process will be undertaken over several consecutive days, since they will be tested, and the testing and results require two to three days to complete. A certificate that indicates a negative COVID-19 test result is expected to be granted by Japanese health authorities to exit the ship."

The cruise line also said it will give every passenger a full refund, and a free future cruise of the same value.

The firm said: "Because of the extraordinary circumstances onboard Diamond Princess, the company is refunding the full cruise fare for all guests including air travel, hotel, ground transportation, pre-paid shore excursions, gratuities and other items.

In addition, guests are not being charged for any onboard incidental charges during the additional time onboard. Princess Cruises will also provide guests with a future cruise credit equal to the cruise fare paid for the voyage."

Samuel Osborne19 February 2020 08:35

David Abel, who was aboard the Diamond Princess, has said he does not believe he will be on a planned evacuation flight to the UK after he and his wife Sally tested positive for the virus.

Mr Abel appeared to cast doubt on the diagnosis on Tuesday when he described the situation as "a setup" in a Facebook post.

But he said in a YouTube video on Wednesday: "We've since spoken to a doctor that speaks English, and we've had to really press hard for that, and it has been confirmed by him we are both positive.

"We are going to a hostel because there isn't a hospital bed anywhere around. So, we're going to a hostel and in four or five days we'll be removed from the hostel and put into a hospital, where we will receive treatment.

"So I can't see that there's going to be any way we're on that flight to the UK."

Samuel Osborne19 February 2020 08:54

Coronavirus death toll passes 2,000

The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in mainland China has passed 2,000, though the number of new cases has fallen for a second day in a row.

China's National Health Commission reported the lowest daily rise in new infections in 29 January - 1,749 new confirmed cases.

It brings the total number of cases in China to more than 74,000.

Six people have died outside mainland China, including a new fatality announced today in Hong Kong.

Samuel Osborne19 February 2020 09:15

Passengers finally leave cruise ship docked in Cambodia

Passengers disembarking from the Westerdam (TANG CHHIN SOTHY/AFP via Getty Images)

The remaining passengers who were stuck onboard a cruise ship docked in Cambodia for almost a week have left the vessel on Wednesday after they tested negative for the coronavirus.

MS Westerdam, operated by Carnival Corp's Holland America Line, arrived in the port of Sihanoukville on 13 February having been turned away at five other ports after leaving Hong Kong, which has reported more than 60 cases of the virus and two deaths.

The ship came under renewed scrutiny amid Cambodia's quick clearance for passengers to fly home, which was criticised after one American woman who had been on the cruise ship tested positive for the virus over the weekend after a special flight chartered by the cruise reached Malaysia.

"The last 233 passengers on MS Westerdam are disembarked and will continue to Phnom Penh by buses," said Kheang Phearum, spokesman for Preah Sihanouk province, where Sihanoukville is located.

Holland America Line confirmed in a statement the last passengers had been given health clearances to leave the ship and make their way home.

"The company is working to finalise arrangements for everyone," the statement said, adding that those who travelled home previously will be contacted by their local health department.

Samuel Osborne19 February 2020 09:38

South Korean outbreak traced to church services

South Korea has reported 15 new cases of the coronavirus, including 10 people involved in a surprise outbreak traced to several church services in the central city of Daegu.

The spike in new cases is unprecedented so far in South Korea and brings the total number of people infected in the country to 46.

Thirteen of the new cases are in Daegu and the surrounding North Gyeongsang province, with 11 of them tied to an earlier confirmed carrier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said in a statement.

The earlier case was confirmed on Tuesday in a 61-year-old woman known as "Patient 31". She had no recent record of overseas travel but had attended church services and sought care at a hospital before being tested for the virus, the agency said.

Now at least 10 people who attended religious services with Patient 31 have tested positive for the virus. One other person, who came in contact with her at a local hospital, has also come down with the disease.

Hundreds of people are believed to have attended services with Patient 31 in recent weeks at a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, a religious movement founded in 1984 by South Korean Lee Man-hee, who is revered as a messiah by followers.

Samuel Osborne19 February 2020 10:02

No indication of cases in North Korea, WHO says

There are no indications the coronavirus has spread to North Korea, the World Health Organisation has said, after South Korean media suggested there were cases and deaths there being covered up by Pyongyang authorities.

"At the moment there are no signals, there are no indications we are dealing with any Covid-19 there," Dr Mike Ryan, head of WHO's emergencies programme, told a news conference in Geneva.

WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said North Korea had reported making checks on nearly 7,300 travellers entering the country over a six-week period to 9 February.

Citing the North Korean health ministry, he said 141 travellers with fevers had been tested for the virus and all had tested negative.

North Korean and WHO officials were due to meet in Geneva later to discuss preparedness.

Mr Jasarevic said the WHO will provide North Korea with supplies including laboratory reagents for tests and protective equipment such as goggles, gloves, masks and gowns for health workers.

Samuel Osborne19 February 2020 10:19

Another 79 people have tested positive for coronavirus on the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan, local broadcaster NHK has reported.

Samuel Osborne19 February 2020 10:45

First coronavirus cases reported in Iran

Iran has confirmed two cases of the coronavirus, the first in the country, the semi-official ISNA news agency has reported.

ISNA quoted an official in the country's health ministry, Kiyanoush Jahanpour, saying "since last two days, some suspected cases of the new coronavirus were found."

The report did not give the nationality of the two infected people.

Samuel Osborne19 February 2020 10:57

Cruise line Royal Caribbean has said it will send one million N95 protective face masks to China to help with the spread of coronavirus, Cathy Adams reports.

"We admire the all-out efforts of the Chinese government and people to address this crisis, and we want to bring our resources to bear to help their efforts," said Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean.

The cruise line also said it would dedicate two of its ships to humanitarian efforts in Australia and California, to help with the recent fires crisis.

Samuel Osborne19 February 2020 11:17

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