TOKYO – Large white sheets covering them head-to-knee, people infected with a new virus were led by gloved and masked officials Wednesday off a Japanese cruise ship, while the rest of the 3,700 people on board faced a two-week quarantine in their cabins. In Hong Kong, more than 3,600 people on another cruise ship were to be screened after it was banned by Taiwan amid growing worry about the spread of an outbreak.
The ships are caught up in a global health emergency that seems to worsen by the day. The little-understood coronavirus has killed more than 500 people, mostly in mainland China, but it has also spread panic and anger around the world as the cases grow.
As thousands of hospital workers in Hong Kong went on strike to demand the border with mainland China be closed completely, the city announced that all people entering from the mainland, including Hong Kong residents, must be quarantined for 14 days.
Tokyo Olympics organizers, meanwhile, said they are increasingly worried about the disruption the virus is causing ahead of the games, which open in less than six months.
The director-general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, asked for $675 million to help countries address the expected spread of the virus. He acknowledged that the sum is a lot, but told a news briefing that “it's much less than the bill we will face if we do not invest in preparedness now.”
Tedros said in the last 24 hours, the U.N. health agency has seen the biggest jump in cases since the start of the epidemic. According to the latest figures early Thursday, the number of confirmed cases jumped by 3,694 to 28,018. China on Thursday reported 73 more deaths from a new virus, raising its total to 563.
Two planes carrying about 350 Americans out of China arrived Wednesday at California military bases, and two more are expected Thursday at bases in Nebraska and Texas. The evacuations follow an initial flight with 195 American citizens last week. All passengers will be quarantined for 14 days.
China has strongly defended its epidemic control measures and called on other nations not to go overboard in their responses.
Countries “can assess the epidemic situation in an objective, fair, calm and rational manner… and support China's epidemic control efforts,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chenying said at an online news conference Wednesday. “Fear is worse than any virus.”
To reduce the danger of exposure for health workers, Beijing is seeking to develop a robot to administer throat tests.
Separately, Shanghai announced that all schools will delay reopening until at least the end of February, rather than the middle of the month as originally planned.