Cruise ship cases increase as coronavirus threatens China’s largest political gathering of year

Japan reported an increase in coronavirus infections on a quarantined cruise ship on Monday, as the growing epidemic threatened to impact China’s largest political gathering of the year.

The Health Ministry in Tokyo said that 99 more people on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in the port of Yokohama had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases on the vessel to 454.

Japanese health officials have so far screened a total of 1,723 people on the ship, which was carrying about 3,700 passengers and crew members, broadcaster NHK reported.

Meanwhile, other countries were preparing to evacuate passengers stranded on the Diamond Princess, which has been quarantined since Feb. 4.

The U.S. flew about 340 passengers back from Japan on Monday on two planes after they were screened for symptoms, the U.S. embassy in Tokyo and U.S. media reported.

After landing in the U.S., they are now set to go through another 14 days of quarantine.

At least 40 U.S. citizens who tested positive for the Covid-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus remained in Japan for treatment.

Among the Diamond Princess passengers is first diagnosed case of a Russian citizen, state media reported on Monday.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said more than 200 Australians and New Zealanders stranded on board the Diamond Princess ship will be flown to Australia on Wednesday.

Those evacuees will also spend another 14 days in quarantine in a disused camp in Darwin, where there are already more than 260 Australians being kept after arriving from Wuhan, China.

There have been 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia.

The Hong Kong government also announced that 300 people from the city currently on board the Diamond Princess would be repatriated, with 10 passengers already testing positive for the virus, according to the South China Morning Post.

The new and deadly strain of coronavirus has spread to around two dozen countries worldwide and sparked a number of travel restrictions, including in China, the source of the outbreak, where entire cities and regions have been cordoned off.

Organisers of the large Tokyo marathon meanwhile announced a massive scaling back of the sports event, set for March 1, over coronavirus fears, with only elite runners and wheelchair athletes taking part.

The move, which follows the confirmation of new cases of coronavirus in the 2020 Olympics host city, means that from the originally 38,000 entered, only 176 runners and 30 wheelchair athletes can participate.

China is also considering postponing its annual parliamentary session, the National People’s Congress, state media reported on Monday.

The standing committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC), a top ruling body, will make the decision at a meeting on Feb. 24, Xinhua news agency reported.

The parliamentary session normally begins in early March along with the annual meeting of a top advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress (CPPCC). A postponement has been expected this year due to the ongoing crisis.

China said on Monday that more than 70,000 people had been infected so far with the virus, which originated in the central Hubei province, while the death toll has risen to 1,770.

A source familiar with the NPC preparations told the South China Morning Post that the health risk of holding the political sessions would be “too high.”

More than 5,000 delegates usually convene from around the country for the annual sessions, which take place at Beijing’s cavernous Great Hall of the People.

Officials in Macau, one of the world’s largest casino markets, meanwhile said they would reopen all casinos in the region after they were closed for two weeks in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In Cambodia, nearly 1,000 passengers and crew remain aboard another cruise ship after a disembarked passenger tested positive for coronavirus after having flown to Malaysia, a provincial official said on Monday.

Holland America Line’s Westerdam, which had been turned away by several Asian nations due to fears that people aboard had contracted the new viral strain, was still carrying 233 passengers and 747 crew members as of Monday morning, provincial government spokesman Kheang Phearum told dpa.

More than 1,200 people disembarked the ship on Friday and Saturday, with most flying to the capital Phnom Penh en route home. 

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