Coronavirus toll nears 500 in China; cruise ship quarantined in Japan after 10 test positive

Coronavirus toll nears 500 in China; cruise ship quarantined in Japan after 10 tested positive
Officers in protective gears carry luggage cases after people who were transferred from cruise ship Diamond Princess, arrive at a maritime police's base in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan, Wednesday. Photo: REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

Beijing/Shanghai: The death toll from a coronavirus outbreak in China passed 490 on Wednesday, as two US airlines suspended flights to Hong Kong following the first fatality there and 10 cases were confirmed on a cruise ship quarantined in Japan.

China's National Health Commission said another 65 deaths were reported on Tuesday, a new daily record bringing the toll on the mainland to 490, mostly in and around the locked-down central city of Wuhan where the virus emerged late last year.

There have been two deaths outside mainland China. A 39-year-old man in Hong Kong with an underlying illness who had visited Wuhan city died on Tuesday. A man died in the Philippines last week after visiting Wuhan, the first virus-related overseas fatality.

Across mainland China, there were 3,887 new confirmed infections, bringing the total accumulated number to 24,324.

Ten people on a cruise liner under quarantine at the Japanese port of Yokohama tested positive for coronavirus, Japan's health minister said, a figure that could rise as medical screening of thousands of patients and crew continued.

The 10 infected people will be transported to a medical facility, while the remaining around 3,700 people will be quarantined on board the Carnival Corp ship Diamond Princess for 14 days. There are now 33 cases in Japan.

"I want to take sufficient care of the health of passengers and crew and make every effort to prevent the spread of the virus," Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told a media briefing.

Carnival on Tuesday cancelled cruises scheduled to depart the Japanese ports of Yokohama and Kobe this week because of delays related to the coronavirus checks.

Another cruise ship, the World Dream operated by Dream Cruises, docked in Hong Kong on Wednesday after being denied entry to Taiwan, with all passengers and crew undergoing health checks, Hong Kong's Cable TV reported.

Nearly 230 cases have been reported in 27 other countries and regions outside mainland China, according to a Reuters tally based on official statements from the authorities involved.

"We have the ability and confidence to finally win this war of containment," China's state councillor Wang Yi told Thailand's foreign minister during a call on Tuesday, according to China's foreign ministry.

Coronavirus toll nears 500 in China; cruise ship quarantined in Japan after 10 tested positive
A government officer gets on a Department of Health ship before it heads to the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal, where the World Dream ship that had been denied entry in Taiwan's Kaohsiung amid concerns of coronavirus infection on board is docked, in Hong Kong, China, Wednesday. Photo: REUTERS/Jessie Pang

Wang said the mortality rate of less than 2.1% from the coronavirus outbreak to date was far lower than that of other major epidemics, the foreign ministry said in its account of the call published on Wednesday.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the flu-like virus a global emergency and experts say much is still unknown, including its exact mortality rate and transmission routes.

Economic impact spreads

Asian stocks steadied on Wednesday as Chinese stocks nudged higher on hopes of additional stimulus to lessen the economic impact of the epidemic on the world's second-largest economy.

Nearly $700 billion was wiped off mainland Chinese stocks on Monday and many factories remain closed, cities cut off and travel in and out of China severely restricted, fuelling worries about global supply chains.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the epidemic would delay a surge in US exports to China expected from the Phase 1 trade deal set to take effect later this month.

Bank of Japan Deputy Governor Masazumi Wakatabe said the central bank of the world's third-biggest economy was ready to ramp up stimulus measures, citing "heightening uncertainties regarding the impact of the spread of the coronavirus" among other headwinds.

American Airlines Group and United Airlines said on Wednesday they would suspend flights to and from the Asian financial hub after this week. The announcements mean no US carriers will be flying passenger flights to Hong Kong after this week.

Coronavirus toll nears 500 in China; cruise ship quarantined in Japan after 10 tested positive
A woman wearing a mask checks her mobile phone in Shanghai, China, January 29, 2020. Reuters

Thousands of medical workers in Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region of China, held a second day of strikes on Tuesday to press for complete closure of borders with the mainland after three checkpoints were left open.

Hong Kong has confirmed 18 cases. It was badly hit by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a coronavirus that emerged from China in 2002, killed almost 800 people worldwide and cost the global economy an estimated $33 billion.

Neighbouring Macau, also a special administrative region of China lying across the Pearl River estuary from Hong Kong, ordered its casinos to suspend operations on Tuesday, effectively closing off the lifeblood of its economy in a drastic measure to contain the epidemic.

China evacuations continue

Beijing has criticised US travel restrictions, barring foreign nationals who have visited China, as an overreaction and has called on Washington to do more to help China.

Several countries including Australia and New Zealand continued to evacuate citizens from Wuhan city. The United States said it may stage additional evacuation flights for private US citizens in China's virus-hit Wuhan on Thursday.

Wuhan authorities are converting an additional eight buildings, including gymnasiums, exhibition centres and sports centres, into hospitals, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Wednesday.

Coronavirus toll nears 500 in China; cruise ship quarantined in Japan after 10 tested positive
Workers set up infrastructure at the Wuhan International Conference and Exhibition Center to convert it into a makeshift hospital to receive patients infected with the new coronavirus, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, Tuesday. Photo: cnsphoto via REUTERS

The latest announcement adds to plans revealed earlier this week to convert three other venues in the city into hospitals. Once all 11 buildings are converted, a process that is expected to be completed later on Wednesday, they will be able to accommodate 10,000 patients.

A specially constructed hospital in Wuhan, designed with 1,000 beds, opened to patients on Monday, while the building of a second hospital, with 1,600 beds, is also scheduled to be completed on Wednesday.