Coronavirus: Americans to be evacuated from cruise ship quarantined in Japan

• U.S. to evacuate Americans from quarantined cruise ship in Japan

• Death toll from novel coronavirus rises to 1,665

• China's president said he took early action behind the scenes

• China's Hubei bans vehicle traffic to curb spread of coronavirus

• American woman from cruise ship tests positive again in Malaysia

Death toll from novel coronavirus rises

Almost 1,700 people have now died from the novel coronavirus as the number of people diagnosed with the respiratory illness rose to 68,500, officials at China’s National Health Commission reported Sunday.

As of Saturday a further 142 people had died, bringing the total number of deaths to 1,663, they said, adding that there were 2,009 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 — an infection that the novel coronavirus causes — nationwide.

However, they said that more than 9,400 patients had also been cured and discharged.

Health commission spokesman Mi Feng told a news conference on Sunday that China's campaign again the virus was beginning to show results.

"The effect of the coronavirus controls is appearing," he said.

Increased medical support and preventive measures in Hubei, where coronavirus is believed to have originated, had headed off more critical cases and the proportion of critical cases among confirmed cases had fallen, Mi added.

Mild cases were also being treated more quickly, preventing them from becoming critical, he said. — Dawn Liu and Reuters

U.S. to evacuate Americans from quarantined cruise ship in Japan

American passengers quarantined aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japanare to be evacuated on Sunday, according to a letter sent to them by the U.S. embassy in Tokyo.

The embassy also reiterated that the U.S. government recommends that the 400 or so American citizens disembark from the cruise ship and return to the U.S.

It said the U.S. government had chartered flights that will depart Yokohama, where the ship is docked, to the United States on Sunday.

“These charter flights are the only opportunity for eligible passengers to fly to the United States until March 4, 2020, at the earliest,” the letter added. “This date is 14 days after the remaining passengers are expected to depart the ship on Feb. 19.”

Japanese officials said the quarantine aboard the ship is supposed to end on Feb. 19.

The embassy added that no symptomatic or infected passengers will be allowed to board the chartered flights.

Upon return to the U.S., those who choose to take the chartered flights will be quarantined at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California or Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas for 14 days.

Those who choose to stay behind on the ship would face “potential constraints that would impact return to the United States in the next two weeks,” the embassy added.

On Sunday, Japan’s health ministry confirmed 70 additional coronavirus cases on board the ship, bringing the total number of those infected on the Diamond Princess to 355. A total of 1,219 passengers and crew members have been tested so far.

The ship, carrying some 3,700 passengers and crew, has been quarantined in Yokohama since Feb. 3 after a passenger, who disembarked in Hong Kong, was later diagnosed with the virus.

The company that owns the cruise ship said Sunday it was cancelling all over voyages aboard Diamond Princess until April 20 due to “prolonged quarantine period and the anticipated time to prepare the ship to return to service.” — Arata Yamamoto and Yuliya Talmazan

China's president says he took behind-the-scenes action in the early days of outbreak

Chinese President Xi Jinping said in a speech published Saturday night by state media that he took behind-the-scenes action in the early days of the COVID-19 epidemic.

In the speech, delivered Feb. 3 but detailed for the first time Saturday, Xi said he gave instructions to officials on fighting the outbreak as early as Jan. 7.

The disclosure came after Chinese leadership was criticized for slow and muted reaction to the COVID-19 disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Officials only notified the public about its potential to spread in late January.

The coronavirus epidemic has become the biggest challenge yet facing President Xi since he became leader of China in 2012. — Associated Press and Dennis Romero

China's Hubei bans vehicle traffic to curb spread of coronavirus

The government of Hubei province, where the respiratory illness is believed to have developed, said Sunday that a ban will be imposed on vehicle traffic across the province to curb the spread of the virus.

Police cars, ambulances, vehicles carrying essential goods, or other vehicles related to public service would be exempted, it said on its official website. It added that the province will carry out regular health checks on all residents.

It also stated that companies cannot resume work without first receiving permission from the government. — Alex Shi and Reuters

American woman from cruise ship tests positive again in Malaysia

An American woman who was aboard a cruise ship which was allowed disembark in Cambodia on Friday, has tested positive for coronavirus for second time.

The 83-year-old had been traveling on the MS Westerdam which was refused entry to several countries including Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines and Thailand, before it was eventually allowed to dock in Sihanoukville, Cambodia.

After she traveled the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, she tested positive for the respiratory illness on Friday.

She was the first person on the ship, which was carrying 1,455 passengers and 802 crew, to test positive.

Cruise ship operator Holland America Inc. sought more tests and Cambodian authorities also called on Malaysia to review its test results.

Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Waz Azizah Wan Ismail said on Sunday a retest was carried out on the American late on Saturday night and she tested positive again.

However, her husband tested negative. — Reuters