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China sees uptick in COVID-19 cases; Americans on cruise ship head home

Associated Press • Feb 17, 2020 at 3:43 AM

BEIJING — Chinese authorities on Monday reported a slight upturn in new virus cases and 105 more deaths.

The 2,048 new cases followed three days of declines but was up by just 39 from the previous day’s tally of new cases. Another 10,844 people have recovered from COVID-19, a disease caused by the new coronavirus, and have been discharged from hospitals, according to Monday’s figures. The death toll is 1,770.

MORE HELP 

The military dispatched hundreds more medical workers and extra supplies to the city hit hardest by the 2-month-old outbreak.

Another 1,200 doctors and nurses from China’s military began arriving in Wuhan on Monday morning, the latest contingent sent to help shore up the city’s overwhelmed health care system. The city has rapidly built two prefabricated hospitals and converted gymnasiums and other spaces into wards for those showing milder symptoms, but residents still say they are being wait-listed for beds and even ambulance rides.

Wuhan has accounted for the vast majority of mainland China’s 70,548 cases. Some 60 million people in that area and other parts of China are under lockdown in a bid to prevent the virus from spreading further.

Public transportation, trains and air travel have been halted in Wuhan since Jan. 23, and a ban on all vehicle travel in the city was expanded to all of surrounding Hubei province in an additional containment measure. Vehicles involved in epidemic prevention and transporting daily necessities were exempt.

HOARDING

With fears of the virus spreading further, Chinese and residents of nearby countries and territories have begun hoarding supplies of everything from masks and other personal protective gear to instant noodles, cooking oil and toilet paper.

In Hong Kong, local media reported that police had arrested two men and were seeking three others who allegedly stole a load of 60 packs of toilet paper at knifepoint early early Monday morning. Supplies of the commodity have become extremely scarce, with often only low-quality imports still available. Police were expected to discuss the matter later.

NEW CASES ABROAD

New cases in other countries are raising more concern about containment of the virus. Though only a few hundred cases have been confirmed outside China, some recent cases lacked obvious connections to China.

Taiwan on Sunday reported its first death from COVID-19, the fifth fatality outside mainland China. Taiwan’s Central News Agency, citing health minister Chen Shih-chung, said the man who died was in his 60s and had not traveled overseas recently and had no known contact with virus patients.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe convened an experts meeting to discuss containment measures in his country, where more than a dozen cases have emerged in the past few days without any obvious link to China.

“The situation surrounding this virus is changing by the minute,” Abe said.

Japan has 415 confirmed cases, including 355 from a quarantined cruise ship, and one death from the virus. Japan has the highest number of cases among about two dozen countries outside China where the illness has spread.

CRUISE SHIP DEPARTURES

Hundreds of Americans from the quarantined cruise ship took charter flights home, and Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and Italy were planning similar flights.

The 300 or so Americans flying on U.S. government-chartered aircraft back to the United States will face another 14-day quarantine at Travis Air Force Base in California and Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. The U.S. Embassy said the departure was offered because people on the ship were at a high risk of exposure to the virus. People with symptoms were banned from the flights.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a Qantas flight was being arranged to evacuate Australian passengers, who would be quarantined at a facility near Darwin upon arrival on Wednesday. The flight will take return some New Zealand evacuees to their home country as well, he said.

About 255 Canadians and 330 Hong Kong residents are on board the ship or undergoing treatment in Japanese hospitals. There are also 35 Italians, of which 25 are crew members, including the captain.