Japan cruise ship coronavirus cases climb to 175, including quarantine officer

By Ju-min Park and Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) – Another 39 people have tested positive for the coronavirus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Japan, with one quarantine officer also infected, bringing the total to 175, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

The Diamond Princess was placed in quarantine for two weeks on arriving in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, on Feb. 3, after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong was diagnosed with the virus.

The epidemic originated in mainland China, where more than 1,100 people have now died of the virus.

It is looking like an increasing economic threat for Japan, where manufacturers are reliant on Chinese companies for parts, and shops and hotels dependent on Chinese tourists.

About 3,700 people are on board the cruise ship, which usually has a crew of 1,100 and a passenger capacity of 2,670. Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said in parliament that he wanted to expand testing to all passengers and crew on board, and that authorities could muster resources to do more than 1,000 tests a day, according to national broadcaster NHK.

The British-flagged Diamond Princess is managed by Princess Cruise Lines, one of the world’s largest cruise lines and a unit of Carnival Corp <CCL.N>.

Kyodo news agency, citing the health ministry, said that of the 39 cases, 10 were crew and 29 were passengers.

Ten were Japanese nationals and the others were from 11 countries, including the United States and China. Four were in serious condition, Kato said.

People who test positive for the virus are taken off the ship to hospital.

The quarantine officer who was infected had been handing out questionnaires checking the health of passengers and crew and had been following rules that require the wearing of a mask and gloves but not a full protective suit, according to the Nikkei business daily, quoting the health ministry.

A health ministry official had no immediate comment, but Nikkei said the ministry was checking the officer’s contacts with colleagues and family members.

The government has decided on a 500 billion yen ($4.5 billion) emergency package of loans and guarantees to help small businesses, particularly in tourism and smaller manufacturers, the Nikkei newspaper reported.

S&P Global Ratings said the outbreak would likely damage the operating performance of Japanese companies in the first half, especially automobile manufacturers that are likely to face a prolonged halt in operations in China.

“The impact might be harsh on Nissan Motor and Honda Motor,” the rating agency said in a note.

About 80% of the ship passengers were aged 60 or over, with 215 in their 80s and 11 in the 90s, the Japan Times newspaper reported.

Japan has sent four chartered flights to China’s Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, for its citizens there to return, and plans a fifth. The 197 people who returned on the first chartered flight tested negative, the health ministry said.

 

(Reporting by Chris Gallagher, Ju-min Park, Ami Miyazaki, Elaine Lies and David Dolan; Writing by Linda Sieg; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell, Gerry Doyle, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Nick Macfie)

WHO sounds Ebola alarm as risks intensify

A Congolese health worker administers ebola vaccine to a child at the Himbi Health Centre in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, July 17, 2019. REUTERS/Olivia Acland

By Tom Miles

GENEVA (Reuters) – The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared Congo’s Ebola outbreak an international health emergency, sounding a rarely used global alarm after the virus threatened to spread to a major city and into neighboring countries.

Despite a highly effective vaccine and a swift international response after it was declared 11 months ago, the outbreak has proved tenacious in an unstable region beset by violence, becoming Congo’s worst ever, with almost 1,700 dead.

A vast campaign of vigilance and vaccination, with almost 75 million screenings, has kept the highly infectious virus almost entirely confined to two provinces in northeastern Congo. The emergency committee of international health experts that advises WHO had thrice declined to declare an emergency.

But this month a pastor died after traveling to Goma, a city of 2 million and a gateway to other countries in the region. On Wednesday, the WHO reported a fisherwoman had died in Congo after four vomiting incidents at a market in Uganda, where 590 people may be sought for vaccination.

“The committee is concerned that a year into the outbreak, there are worrying signs of possible extension of the epidemic,” the committee’s report said.

The committee had been under pressure from many experts who felt the scale of the outbreak and the risks meant it had to be given the emergency status – only the fifth such disease outbreak since the WHO introduced such designations in 2005.

“It shows no sign of coming under control,” said Peter Piot, a member of the team that discovered Ebola and is now director of the London School of Hygiene &amp; Tropical Medicine.

“I hope that today&rsquo;s decision serves as a wake-up call to drive high-level political action, improved coordination, and greater funding to support DRC in their efforts to stop this devastating epidemic,” he said.

NO BORDER CLOSURES

The previous international emergencies, under a system introduced after the 2004 Asian SARS epidemic, were the 2013-2016 West African Ebola epidemic that killed over 11,300 people, the 2009 flu pandemic, polio in 2014 and the Zika virus that caused a spate of birth defects across Latin America.

The WHO committee’s chairman, Robert Steffen, tempered the outbreak’s designation as an emergency by saying it remained a regional, rather than a global threat, and stressed that no country should react to Ebola by closing borders or restricting trade.

The WHO has warned that the nearby countries of Rwanda, South Sudan, Burundi and Uganda are the most at risk, while Central African Republic, Angola, Tanzania, Republic of Congo and Zambia are in a second tier.

Earlier this week the WHO said hundreds of millions of dollars were needed immediately to prevent the outbreak billowing out of control and costing far more lives and money.

But WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who convened the emergency committee after viewing the Goma case as a “potential gamechanger”, said the designation as an international emergency was not meant to suggest that some countries had been withholding funds and would now unlock them.

One priority was to accelerate the production of the vaccine, which is in short supply. It is produced by Merck and still unlicensed, which means it can only be used in a clinical trial overseen by Congo’s health ministry.

WHO has already begun using smaller doses to ration supplies and the committee recommended taking “all measures to increase supplies”, including contracting supply to other manufacturers and transferring Merck’s technology.

(Reporting by Tom Miles, Kate Kelland and Nairobi newsroom; Editing by Gareth Jones, John Stonestreet and Dan Grebler)

First wave of Central American migrants arrives in Mexico City

Migrants, part of a caravan traveling en route to the United States, queue to receive food as they stay in a sport center used as shelter in Arriaga, Mexico November 4, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – The first Central American migrants from a caravan traveling through Mexico toward the United States in hopes of seeking asylum arrived in Mexico City on Sunday, taking up temporary shelter at a sports stadium.

More than 1,000 Central Americans, many fleeing gang violence and financial hardship in their home countries, bedded down at the stadium where the city government set up medical aid and food kitchens.

Ahead of U.S. congressional elections this Tuesday, President Donald Trump has warned repeatedly about the advance of the caravan and ordered thousands of troops to the Mexican border, where units strung up razor wire this weekend.

The migrants arrived in the capital, nearly 500 miles (805 kilometers) from the closest border crossings in Texas, four weeks after setting out from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula.

“Our heads are set at getting to the United States, to fulfill the American dream,” said Mauricio Mancilla, who traveled with his six-year old son from San Pedro Sula. “We have faith in God that we will do this, whatever the circumstances.”

Thousands more Central Americans were moving in groups in the Gulf state of Veracruz, the central state of Puebla and in the southern state of Chiapas, local media reported.

“This is an exodus,” Alejandro Solalinde, a Catholic priest and migrant rights activist, told reporters. “It’s without precedent.”

The U.S. government has pressured Mexico to halt the advance of the migrants and President Enrique Pena Nieto has offered temporary identification papers and jobs if they register for asylum in the southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca.

Mexico’s government said on Saturday it was processing nearly 2,800 asylum requests and that around 1,100 Central Americans had been deported.

At the capital’s famed shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe, a group of Mexican volunteers called out on bullhorns, offering bus rides to migrants to the stadium.

Cesar Gomez, a 20-year old Guatemalan, said he jumped at joining the caravan to avoid the dangers of traveling alone and paying thousands of dollars to human smugglers.

“This was a good opportunity,” he said as he waited for a ride. “The first thing is to try for the United States. If not, maybe I will stay here.”

(Reporting by Josue Gonzalez, Stefanie Eschenbacher and Alberto Fajardo; Editing by Susan Thomas)