Canadians aboard cruise ship 'infected' : Virus update

Canadians aboard cruise ship 'infected' : Virus update

People on a deck of the Westerdam cruise ship watch a helicopter take off in Sihanoukville on Tuesday, as authorities checked if any passengers that remained could have the COVID-19 coronavirus.
People on a deck of the Westerdam cruise ship watch a helicopter take off in Sihanoukville on Tuesday, as authorities checked if any passengers that remained could have the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Canada said 32 of its citizens aboard the stricken Diamond Princess have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a tweet from the Toronto Star.

Japan said earlier Tuesday that it expected to remove all passengers from the cruise liner by Friday, and South Korea said it would evacuate its citizens and fly them back to Seoul. The ship remains docked at the port of Yokohama. The UK government also said it was “working to organise” a flight home for British nationals aboard the ship.

The evacuation plans came as a senior doctor at a hospital in Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, died from virus. His was the latest fatality among health staff working to save tens of thousands of patients in the mainland Chinese city.

The virus is impacting the corporate world, too. Apple Inc said it doesn’t expect to meet its revenue guidance for the quarter due to work slowdowns from the outbreak, while Macau’s casinos are set to reopen Thursday after a shutdown.

Key Developments

- China death toll 1,868; mainland cases rise to 72,436

- Hubei says 1,807 new cases; 93 more deaths

- 32 Canadians aboard Diamond Princess reportedly infected

- Passengers expected to disembark by Friday

- UK, South Korea working to evacuate citizens from ship

- Wuhan hospital director dies from virus

- Macau casinos will reopen Thursday

- Hong Kong seeks billions for virus measures

- Chinese study says most virus cases are mild

Singapore budgets millions to counter virus (2.09pm)

Singaporean authorities are setting aside an additional S$800 million (17.9 billion baht) in the city-state’s budget to support efforts to fight and contain the virus, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat told Parliament.

Earlier this month, Singapore Airlines and subsidiary SilkAir announced a temporary reduction in flight services across their global network, owing to weak demand as a result of the outbreak.

Shanghai schools to remain suspended (2pm)

Colleges and schools in China’s financial hub will remain suspended in March due to the outbreak and online teaching will be provided, the city’s government said. It said it would decide when to reopen campuses based on the development of the epidemic.

Philippines to allow workers to return to Hong Kong, Macau (2pm)

The Southeast Asian nation will allow its citizens employed in Hong Kong and Macau to return to their jobs, partially lifting a travel ban imposed weeks ago to prevent the virus’s spread.

The government will exempt those working in the two cities from the ban “subject to certain formalities,” Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Brigido Dulay tweeted. It comes after the government lifted a days-old travel ban on Taiwan on Feb 14.

New doctor fatality (1.03pm)

State-run CCTV reported the death of neurosurgery expert Liu Zhiming, director of Wuhan Wuchang Hospital, underscoring the risks of the virus for medical workers on its front lines. It comes after the death earlier this month of Li Wenliang, a city doctor who was sanctioned for attempting to bring the virus to light early on -- and whose death sparked a rare outpouring of public anger in the country.

More than 1,700 medical workers have been infected by the coronavirus, according to China’s National Health Commission, most of them in Wuhan. At least six have died.

‘Extraordinary’ steps needed against virus: Moon (12.10pm)

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in called for “extraordinary” steps to minimise the virus’s impact and said it was an emergency for the country’s economy. He offered no specifics on measures he’s considering to protect the economy, but said “every kind of step that can be taken by the government” must be taken.

“An emergency situation warrants an emergency prescription,” he told his Cabinet. Moon warned that the impact this time around could be bigger and longer-lasting than a 2015 epidemic that led the central bank to respond with a rate cut and authorities to enact 11.6 trillion won ($9.8 billion) worth of extra budget.

UK to fly citizens home from cruise liner (10.50am)

The UK is the latest government to look at evacuating its nationals from the Diamond Princess, following Australia and South Korea.

“Given the conditions on board, we are working to organise a flight back to the UK for British nationals on the Diamond Princess as soon as possible,” a Foreign Office statement said. “Our staff are contacting British nationals on board to make the necessary arrangements. We urge all those who have not yet responded to get in touch immediately.”

Macau casinos back in play (10.26am)

The casinos were cleared to open again on Thursday, a move that could lift a sector that’s already been reeling from China’s economic and a shift to gambling operations in Southeast Asia.

Lei Wai Nong, the territory’s secretary for economy and finance, said at a briefing that casinos can reopen Feb 20, though it will be conditional based on criteria on which he didn’t elaborate. Wynn Resorts Ltd., a major operator, said it will open its casinos in a “phased approach that matches guest demand and employee availability.”

China aviation shrinks due to virus (10.02am)

The Chinese aviation market had been projected to overtake America’s this decade. Then the virus struck. Now it’s shrunk to such an extent that it’s fallen from third to 25th -- behind Portugal.

Airlines have slashed capacity due to the outbreak, with global carriers dropping some 1.7 million seats -- that’s nearly 80% of capacity -- from China services from Jan 20 to Feb 17. Chinese airlines also slashed 10.4 million seats domestically.

Hong Kong wants virus funding ‘soon as possible’: Lam (9.35am)

Lam revised a previous funding request for “at least” HK$25 billion after further review and industry consultation, she told reporters at a weekly briefing before meeting with Hong Kong’s Executive Council.

“I sincerely hope legislators could pass the funding application as soon as possible. We will explain the urgency and implementation timetable for each measure in the documents submitted to LegCo,” she said.

Medical personnel in the city previously went on strike in a bid to pressure the chief executive to fully seal off the mainland border, but she stopped short. Hong Kong has also been plagued in recent weeks by a shortage of surgical masks and runs on products including hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

South Korea evacuating citizens from Diamond Princess (9.20am)

South Korea’s health ministry said it would send a plane to evacuate its citizens from the stricken Diamond Princess cruise line in Japan Tuesday afternoon, returning to Seoul Wednesday morning.

The ministry said at a briefing that five people -- four Koreans and one’s Japanese spouse -- want to return to Korea.

There are 14 South Koreans aboard, including five crew members, and no reported cases of coronavirus among them yet, broadcaster YTN reported earlier. The move comes the day after Australia said it would use a Wednesday chartered flight to evacuate some 200 citizens and permanent residents who have been stranded on the ship.

China tightens internet access, blocks VPNs (8.32am)

China is tightening access to the global internet by blocking popular virtual private networks, or VPNs. Beijing often clamps down on the services, which allow Chinese internet users to reach walled-off sites like Google and Twitter, during politically sensitive periods. “Our team continues to work around the clock to address the new escalation in blocks in China,” ExpressVPN, one of the largest services, wrote on its public website Tuesday.

Diamond Princess disembarkation to begin Wednesday (7.45am)

Japan has taken test samples from all passengers aboard the Diamond Princess, health minister Katsunobu Kato said at a briefing in Tokyo. Disembarkation will start on Wednesday and is expected to be completed by Friday, he said, adding that the ship’s crew would also be tested.

Chinese study says most cases mild (7.38am)

A report by Chinese health officials indicated the vast majority of coronavirus cases are mild. The study, which appeared in the Chinese CDC Weekly, analysed more than 72,000 patients, including confirmed and suspected cases, through Feb 11. Of the confirmed cases, 81% were considered mild, while 14% were severe and 4.7% were critical. Some 87% of the confirmed cases were between the ages of 30 and 79.

The study reported a case fatality rate of 2.3%, with most of the cases in Hubei province. That compares with a 9.5% fatality rate for SARS, and as much as 0.4% for the 2009 H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic. The majority of deaths occurred in patients over 60 years old.

China says more patients discharged (7.01am)

A statement from China’s National Health Commission reported the additional 1,886 cases and said 12,552 patients have been discharged.

Infected Westerdam passengers trigger fear worldwide (5am)

Health authorities from the Netherlands to Thailand are implementing measures to deal with travellers from the shunned Westerdam cruise liner as they fan out toward home, in an effort to prevent a further spread of the virus after an American passenger was found to be infected.

Cruise operator Holland America Line, which gave assurances that the virus hadn’t struck anyone aboard the Westerdam, now says it’s working with authorities to deal with the possible fallout from returning guests who may have been exposed. Those aboard came from 41 countries and territories, and the largest contingent was from the US.

Macau’s casinos reopening Feb 20 (4.28am)

The reopening will be conditional based on criteria the city’s Secretary for Economy and Finance Lei Wai Nong didn’t specify in making the announcement. Casinos that need more time to prepare for the reopening will be given a 30-day buffer period. Macau’s famous gaming centre has been closed for weeks in a bid to contain the virus’s spread.

Apple to miss guidance because of virus (4.15am)

Apple Inc. doesn’t expect to meet its revenue guidance for the quarter ending in March due to work slowdowns from the outbreak of coronavirus in China. The company said it anticipates global supply of the iPhone to be “temporarily constrained.”

Damage cause by virus resembles SARS, MERS (2am)

Doctors studying a 50-year-old man who died in China last month from the new coronavirus found that the disease caused lung damage reminiscent of two prior coronavirus-related outbreaks, SARS and MERS.

Cruise travel risks remain ‘manageable’ despite virus, WHO Says: (12am)

Cruise ship travel remains a “manageable risk” for now, and it doesn’t make sense to recommend a ban on it, the World Health Organization said, even as the return home of 3,000 travellers from two coronavirus-stricken cruise ships fuels fears of further contagion.

“People say we should steer clear of cruise ships, or steer clear of airports or steer clear of certain ethnic groups,” Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, said at a press briefing Monday at the organization’s Geneva headquarters. “We have to be really careful” of such suggestions. “We need an approach to managing risk that allows us to continue to operate as a society.”

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