Coronavirus scare leaves 6000 quarantined on cruise ship, India confirms first case

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Update (0725ET): Following several unconfirmed scares, India has confirmed its first case of the novel coronavirus. That means all three of the world’s most populous countries have now confirmed at least one case of the virus.

And that list could soon expand. Brazil, the world’s fifth most-populous country, reported three suspected cases yesterday. Malaysia has confirmed at least 8 cases. Reports that a Thai woman died of the virus on Kolkata were never confirmed.

Meanwhile, here’s the most up-to-date map we could find:

Earlier, the White House said it had launched a task force that will meet daily to oversee the response to the coronavirus outreak that has resulted in at least five confirmed cases in the US, NBC reports. However, an expert who appeared on CNBC Thursday morning pointed out that the administration is a little behind the 8-ball.

If the administration wasn’t so bogged down with impeachment, maybe Trump would have more time to focus on the virus response?

“Let’s remember we have fewer than four cases in the United States, and they’re concentrated in four states,” he said. The maximum country is Thailand, with 14 cases, he said – and the US is nowhere near that.

* * *

Update (0710ET): Airline employees are putting their feet down and demanding that their bosses halt flights to China, as more than a dozen airlines around the world have already done.

Air France cabin crew unions have demanded Air France stop flying to China, Reuters reports.

“Air France is monitoring the rapidly evolving situation in real time. The health and safety of its crew remain the absolute priority,” said Air France-KLM.

We’ve heard whispers of employee discontent before. But expect to see more to forcefully object.

* * *

National health officials in Beijing announced a slew of new cases and virus-related deaths early Thursday morning (nearly 8,000 have been sickened, another 12,000 cases are suspected, and roughly 170 have died), but since then, things have been quiet.

If the recent past is any guide, this would suggest another dump of new cases and deaths is in the offing.

Three new cases were confirmed in Vietnam overnight. But in terms of news flow, most of the drama during the early hours of Thursday centered around Italy and Russia.

A map of cases hasn’t yet reflected the suspected cases in Italy.

With the WHO set to reconvene its emergency committee in Geneva on Thursday for the third time in a week, experts are calling on the supra-national organization to label the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern,” or PHEIC – the official designation of a global pandemic.

The 16 independent experts on the WHO’s emergency committee will advise Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on the decision and give recommendations for managing the outbreak. Earlier this week, Tedros met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing earlier in the week to discuss the situation. Twice last week, the WHO decided to hold off on declaring a public health emergency, saying it was “too soon,” according to the SCMP.

Hitoshi Oshitani, a former regional adviser on communicable disease surveillance and response at the WHO’s Western Pacific office, told the SCMP that there is an “imminent risk” of a dangerous global outbreak.

“I think the WHO should have declared a public health emergency of international concern earlier. They are supposed to declare PHEIC based on a risk of international spread. There was already significant risk of international spread one week ago,” Oshitani said.

Oshitani added that controlling this new coronavirus is proving more difficult than suppressing the 2003 SARS outbreak, largely because the virus can spread via individuals who are infected, but exhibit few – or no – symptoms.

“For Sars, patients were infectious only when they developed very severe illness. But for this virus, patients are likely to be infectious even during the incubation period. If so, rapid isolation is not enough to contain the virus,” he said.

SARS infected 8,000 people and killed 813 worldwide. The coronavirus outbreak has already surpassed SARS in terms of the number of cases in China. Globally, the virus has already effectively tied SARS for the number of confirmed cases, though if skeptical epidemiologists are correct, the true number of cases has already far surpassed the total for SARs.

A number of evacuation missions have been completed, as the US and Japan have flown citizens trapped in Wuhan to safety. However, Japanese officials discovered that several citizens on the flight were infected with the virus, leading to a mass quarantine. UK officials said that citizens evacuated from Wuhan must agree to spend two weeks in quarantine after returning to the UK.

About 6,000 passengers and crew aboard the cruise ship “Costa Smeralda,” owned by the Carnival Corporation, have been confined to the vessel on Thursday amid new fears that two Chinese passengers are suspected of having coronavirus, reported Reuters.

Two Chinese tourists, traveling from Hong Hong and, originally, from Macau, have been placed in “isolation in separate rooms of the ship’s sanitary space,” said local media outlet, ANSA.

The tourist arrived in Italy on Jan. 25 and boarded the vessel in the port of Savona in Italy. The two have come down with high fevers and breathing problems.

“The cabin of the Hong Kong couple on the ship has been isolated and they are closed there with the doctors. They told us that it is the woman who has a very high fever, while her husband is visiting him as a precaution. We arrived in the morning, returning from Palma de Mallorca. Of course, we are a bit worried. From the ship, apart from the doctors, no one goes down and no one goes up. Someone, who has only the flu, remained in the cabin. It is a vacation that risks ending like a nightmare, we hope to go down soon,” a passenger of the ship told ANSA.

The cruise ship has already moored in Marseilles in France and several Spanish ports this week before docking on Thursday at Civitavecchia, north of Rome.

Reuters notes that all passengers have been confined to the ship as tests are underway to determine if the two Chinese tourists have coronavirus.

Carnival shares plunged as much as 8% in pre-market Thursday after the ANSA report.

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