BEIJING – Deaths from a new virus rose to 490 in mainland China today while new cases on a Japanese cruise ship, in Hong Kong and in Thailand showed the increasing spread of the outbreak and renewed attention toward containing it.
Ten people from the cruise ship tested positive and were taken to hospitals, while all 3,700 crew and passengers on the ship will be quarantined on board for up to 14 days, Health Minister Nobukatsu Kato said. More tests are pending.
In Hong Kong, hospitals workers are striking to demand that the border with mainland China be shut completely to ward off the virus, but four new cases without known travel to the mainland indicate the illness is spreading locally in the territory.
Hospitals in Hong Kong said they had to cut some services due to striking workers' absences. More than 7,000 joined the strike Tuesday, according to the Hospital Authority Employees' Alliance, the strike organizer.
The territory's beleaguered leader, Carrie Lam, criticized the strike and said the government was doing all it could to limit the flow of people across the border. Almost all land and sea links have been closed, but the striking workers want it shut completely.
“Important services, critical operations have been affected,” Lam told reporters. “So I'm appealing to those who are taking part in this action: Let's put the interests of the patients and the entire public health system above all other things.”
With the epicenter of the outbreak, Wuhan, cut off by rail, air and road to try to contain the virus, the U.S. and other countries were organizing more evacuation flights for their citizens still in the central Chinese city.
Britain and France on Tuesday urged all of their citizens in China to leave the country because of the outbreak, while Belgium became the latest nation to announce a confirmed case.
The latest mainland China figures showed an increase of 65 deaths from the previous day, all the new deaths from Wuhan. The number of new cases increased to 24,324, a rise of 3,887 from the previous day.
Outside mainland China, at least 180 cases have been confirmed, including two fatalities, one in Hong Kong and another in the Philippines.
To treat the thousands of patients, China rushed to build hospitals and converted a gymnasium, exhibition hall and cultural center in Wuhan.
Thailand confirmed six more cases Tuesday, raising its total to 25. Two are motorcycle taxi drivers who had driven for Chinese tourists. Earlier, a Thai taxi driver was also diagnosed with the virus. The cases are concerning because they suggest the virus can spread more easily between people than has been suspected.
Dr. David Heymann, who led the World Health Organization's response to the SARS outbreak, said the spike in China's recent caseload is partly because the tally was expanded to milder cases, not only people with pneumonia.