More Virus Cases on Cruise Ship Off Japan; China Death Toll Exceeds 500

A firefighter and an officer wearing face masks and protective gear wait to transfer passengers who tested positive for coronavirus from the cruise ship Diamond Princess to a hospital, after the ship arrived at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan, Thursday. (Reuters/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

Ten more people on a quarantined cruise liner in Japan have tested positive for coronavirus, officials said on Thursday, as health experts stepped up efforts to find a vaccine for a disease that has provoked fears of a global pandemic.

The death toll from the virus in mainland China jumped by 73 to 563, with more than 28,000 confirmed infections there.

Financial analysts have cut their growth outlook for the world’s second-largest economy, with ratings agency Moodys pointing to a risk to auto sales and production.

But global stocks extended their recovery, cheered by record closes in Wall Street benchmarks following encouraging economic data and China’s announcement of a tariff cut on some imports from the United States, which analysts saw as a move to boost confidence.

The virus has shut down cities and factories in China and disrupted global air travel. This week, it brought chaos to the sedate world of luxury ocean cruises.

About 3,700 people on Carnival’s Diamond Princess, docked off a Japanese port, face quarantine for at least two weeks on the ship, which has 20 virus cases, with testing continuing. Japan now has 45 virus cases.

In Hong Kong, a cruise ship with 3,600 passengers and crew was quarantined for a second day pending testing after three positive cases on board.

Taiwan, which has 13 cases, banned international cruise ships from docking.

Several countries, including the United States, have banned entry to visitors who have been in China over the previous two weeks.

News of another virus hot spot emerged, linked to a mid-January company meeting in Singapore. At least three people caught the disease after a conference held with 94 overseas staff, including one from China’s central city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the epidemic.

Authorities have not identified the company, but the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was investigating.

Singapore has reported 28 infections, some involving person-to-person transmission, a feature the WHO has said is deeply concerning and could signal a much larger outbreak.

Health officials in the United States and China have set ambitious goals for getting a vaccine to initial human testing within the next few months, although drugmakers cautioned that they have a long way to go.

“There are no known effective therapeutics,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said when asked about reports of drug “breakthroughs” that boosted hopes on financial markets on Wednesday.

Hundreds of experts will gather in Geneva on Feb. 11-12 to try and find a way to battle the outbreak by speeding research into drugs and vaccines, the WHO said, adding that a multinational WHO-led team would also visit China.

The WHO is also sending emergency supplies, including 500,000 masks and 250,000 testing kits, to dozens of countries.

Most of those infected recover quickly with only mild symptoms but the virus can lead to severe respiratory illnesses. It is too early to know how lethal it may be, as many mild cases are probably going undetected.

Tens of millions of people in China’s central province of Hubei, the capital of which is Wuhan, have been living under virtual lockdown for nearly two weeks, with train stations and airports shut, roads sealed off, and no end in sight.

Hubei reported 70 new deaths on Wednesday and 2,987 new confirmed cases, for more than 80% of China’s total. Other deaths were in Tianjin city, the northeastern province of Heilongjiang and Guizhou province in the southwest.

National health officials said 3,694 coronavirus cases were reported throughout China on Wednesday, the first day in more than a week to see a fall in new daily cases. They did not say why.

First identified in Wuhan, the flu-like virus is believed to have originated at a city market selling wild animals.

The two deaths outside mainland China, in the Philippines and Hong Kong, have both involved visits to Wuhan, where more than 400 people have died.

Nearly 260 cases have been reported in 31 countries and regions outside mainland China, according to a Reuters tally based on authorities’ figures.

More than two dozen airlines have suspended or restricted flights to China and hundreds of foreigners have been evacuated from Wuhan and placed in quarantine around the world.

China, which has bristled at some measures to close borders to its travelers, was considering delaying an annual meeting of its top legislative body set to begin on March 5, people familiar with the matter said.

“The situation doesn’t look likely to be contained by March,” a senior government official told Reuters.

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