Two former passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise ship who had been diagnosed with coronavirus infections have died, according to Japanese authorities.
An 87-year-old man and an 84-year-old woman who had been hospitalized after disembarking the cruise ship were the first confirmed deaths from the Diamond Princess, which has been quarantined off the coast of Japan.
He was hospitalized Feb. 11, she the next day.
An infectious disease specialist in Japan criticized conditions on the Diamond Princess, where 79 new cases were reported Wednesday, saying officials endangered lives by failing to observe proper quarantine practices.
China on Wednesday reported that the rate of new cases continues to decline after tallying 394 new infections and 136 deaths through the end of Wednesday, making the cumulative total 74,546 infections and 2,118 deaths – the majority still occurring in central Hubei province.
International experts, including Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, say they are wary of declaring that the pace of worldwide infections is slowing.
Hong Kong reported its second death, a 70-year-old man, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new travel notice Wednesday for people who have traveled or plan to travel there.
The Level 1 warning asks travelers to exercise basic hygiene that includes hand washing and to avoid contact with sick people. The relatively mild warning comes shortly after Hong Kong reported a second death caused by coronavirus.
Canceling or postponing travel plans wasn’t discouraged by the agency. However, the CDC recommended that a person seek medical attention if a visit to Hong Kong happened in the past 14 days and if symptoms of the virus are occurring.
New cases were reported in Iran, Singapore, and Taiwan. The number of coronavirus cases in South Korea increased substantially Thursday, rising by nearly two-thirds, to 82.
Researchers have produced the first 3-D map of the coronavirus, a development that may help the development of a vaccine or antiviral medicine.
The research, which maps the molecular structure of SARS-CoV-2, was published in the journal Science on Wednesday. A team at the University of Texas at Austin collaborated with researchers at the National Institutes of Health.
They were able to produce their 3-D atomic-level scale map of the part of the virus that attaches to and infects human cells. That part – called the spike protein – could prove essential as researchers race to produce a vaccine.
A vaccine is also in the works separately.
In the United States, a patient at a San Diego hospital was released Wednesday after fully recovering from the virus, UC San Diego Health said in a statement.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified UC San Diego Health that a patient at the facility had fully recovered. The facility has worked closely with the CDC to receive individuals with symptoms to rule out the coronavirus infection.
“Patients who are cleared for hospital discharge have been confirmed through rigorous testing that includes consecutive negative test results provided by the CDC,” UC San Diego Health wrote in a statement. The facility said the patient discharged Wednesday is no longer under federal quarantine or isolation commands.
Democratic senators sent a letter Wednesday to the Trump administration asking it to request emergency funding to supplement the government’s coronavirus response.
In the letter, 25 senators expressed concern that the administration had not asked for supplemental funding to deal with the epidemic. Trump administration officials, the letter said, “continue to assert that there are already sufficient resources available, while providing few details on current or projected spending.”
In a briefing to senators on Feb. 12, administration officials “stated that we must be prepared for a very large and lengthy public health response to this virus given how easily it appears to be transmitted,” according to the letter. “They also stated that [the Department of Health and Human Services] would exhaust existing funding for the response soon.”
The letter cites those worries. “We strongly urge the Administration to transmit an emergency supplemental request that ensures it can and will fully reimburse states for the costs,” the senators wrote.
The letter also noted that President Donald Trump’s recent budget proposal calls for a 9% cut in funding for the HHS, which includes the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – though officials said funding aimed at combating the coronavirus would be protected.
Meanwhile, after a health scare last weekend that sent health officials in several countries scrambling, test results now show that almost 800 passengers on a cruise ship docked in Cambodia do not have the coronavirus, Cambodian health officials said.
The cruise ship Westerdam was turned away by several ports in Asia before finally being welcomed by Cambodia. Some of the passengers were allowed to disembark and travel on to other countries because the ship was assumed to be virus-free. But on Feb. 15, one passenger – an 83-year-old American woman from the ship who went on to Malaysia – tested positive, prompting fears that other passengers may be carrying the virus.
On Wednesday, Holland America Line, which operates the Westerdam, said 781 passengers tested negative for the virus that causes the disease now known as covid-19. “This completes the guests’ testing,” the company said in a statement.
When the ship first left Hong Kong on Feb. 1, it carried 1,455 passengers and 802 crew members. Once it docked in Cambodia, about 674 passengers and 55 crew members disembarked and flew onward to other countries, including the United States. The rest were stopped by sudden restrictions on travel imposed as news of the 83-year-old woman’s positive test spread, Holland America spokesman Erik Elvejord said in an phone interview.
Since then, the remaining 781 passengers and 747 crew members have been stuck in Cambodia. While some passengers will be allowed to disembark Wednesday, the crew members will remain aboard while they wait for their tests to be completed, Elvejord said.
The 55 crew members who were able to leave previously were not tested, he added, and it is unclear what countries they returned to. Those crew members left because they had finished their contracts, he said.
Experts have cautioned that the Westerdam incident demonstrates how travelers without obvious symptoms could slip through screening processes because authorities have been focused on monitoring only those who traveled to China or had close contact with an infected person.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday that it was working to increase preparedness in North Africa and the Middle East for a possible outbreak of the coronavirus, promising the delivery of more essential medical supplies.
The organization detailed its strategy in the region in a news conference in Cairo on Wednesday, one day after the United Nations secretary general warned that one of his biggest concerns was the possible spread of the coronavirus to countries with “less capacity in their health service.”
In Beijing, Chinese cities are slowly coming back to life as the government gains confidence in its ability to control the epidemic.
Shanghai and a dozen other Chinese cities have allowed office buildings, shopping malls, and restaurants to reopen this week, but with extra measures taken to reduce the risks of virus spread, local media reported Wednesday.
While a number of businesses have encouraged employees to work from home, more and more white-collar workers are tiptoeing back to downtown Shanghai’s dense skyscrapers – albeit with some safety measures. The 88-story Jinmao Tower, which houses branch offices of big state banks, IT companies and an upscale Hyatt hotel, have required tenants on different floors to clock in at different hours of the day to reduce mass gathering.
Other buildings have limited the number of passengers for elevators; for instance, the Hongqiao R&F Center allows no more than four people in one ride at the same time, while the HKRI Taikoo Hui commercial complex put the upper limit at six.
The city government said Tuesday that a third of storefronts have also reopened. Smaller restaurants in Shanghai remain closed, and the few that are open have either opted for takeaway only or kept eating-in customers as far apart as possible. The food court in Shanghai Center has kept only a third of its tables and allowed only one customer per table; in addition, tables are placed at least three feet away from each other.
Fast-food chains and coffee shops including KFC and Starbucks are introducing a “no-touch” service, which asks customers to place orders on smartphone apps or a self-service machine and then get their food or drinks at a pickup table away from the cashier.
Some 200 miles away in Nanjing, the provincial capital of Jiangsu, major shopping malls and department stores – the Central, Golden Eagle, Cenbest and the House of Fraser – reopened Wednesday morning with temperature checks at entrances, while most offices, cinemas and other indoor venues remain closed. Clinics and outpatient departments at public hospitals also resumed service, but dental clinics and the departments of oral medicine, ophthalmology, otolaryngology and plastic surgery are closed until further notice.
Intercity bus services and subway systems in Suzhou and several other cities in Jiangsu province have returned to normal operation this week. On Tuesday alone, more than 110,000 passengers took the subway in Suzhou, and all of them had to register their personal information before a security check. Parks, gardens and outdoor sports facilities are now open to public, but with security in place to control human flow.
Hangzhou, the home city of e-commerce giant Alibaba, announced Tuesday that roadblocks and temporary checkpoints inside the city would be dismantled. On Wednesday morning, social media was abuzz with excitement because traffic jams were reported in some parts of the city, signaling an increasing number of cars back on the road. The city’s West Lake scenic area reopened Wednesday, cutting the daily quota of visitors by half and requiring all to wear masks inside.
Three malls owned by Yintai Group have reopened, requiring temperature checks, real-name registration and closing two hours earlier than normal. By Thursday, all businesses in the services sector will be allowed to reopen.
Malls and wholesale markets in other cities – from Kunming in the west to Yiwu in the east, from Changchun in the north to Sanya in the south – have also reportedly reopened this week.
Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, and the wider Hubei province remain under strict quarantine.
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Min Joo Kim and Lyric Li contributed to this report.