China to Russia: End discriminatory coronavirus measures against Chinese

By Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber

MOSCOW (Reuters) – China’s embassy in Russia has demanded authorities in Moscow end what it said are discriminatory anti-coronavirus measures against Chinese nationals, saying they are damaging relations and alarming Chinese residents of the Russian capital.

The complaint, detailed in an embassy letter to the city’s authorities and published by Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta late on Tuesday, deplored what it called “ubiquitous monitoring” of Chinese nationals, including on public transport in Moscow.

Russia, which enjoys strong political and military ties with Beijing, does not currently have any confirmed cases of coronavirus, but has temporarily barred many categories of Chinese nationals from entering the country.

Authorities in Moscow have also been carrying out raids on potential carriers of the virus – individuals at their homes or hotels – and using facial recognition technology to enforce quarantine measures.

The Chinese embassy letter followed unconfirmed local media reports that Mosgortrans, which runs Moscow’s vast bus, trolleybus and tram networks, had told drivers to try to identify Chinese passengers and inform police of their presence.

“The special monitoring of Chinese nationals on Moscow’s public transportation does not exist in any country, even in the United States and in Western states,” the Chinese Embassy letter, dated Feb. 24, read.

“Given an improvement in the epidemiological situation in China, Moscow residents and Chinese people living in Moscow will be worried and won’t understand, and it will harm the good atmosphere for developing Chinese-Russian relations.”

The embassy said it was asking Moscow authorities to refrain from taking what it called excessive measures and to embrace “proportionate and non-discriminatory measures” instead.

The Kremlin said it was unaware of the embassy letter, but that Moscow valued its relations with Beijing and there should be no discriminatory measures against Chinese nationals.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry, the Moscow city government and a representative of the Chinese Embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry said this week that four Taiwanese visiting Moscow were picked up by police and health officials for wearing masks and being mistaken for Chinese, and were forcibly quarantined.

Global Times, published by the official People’s Daily newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, reported that 23 tourists from Hong Kong had been put into quarantine for two weeks after they were spotted by Moscow police.

Russia has had two confirmed cases of coronavirus so far. Both were Chinese nationals who have since recovered and been released from hospital.

Asia reported hundreds of new cases on Wednesday, including the first U.S. soldier to be infected, as the United States warned of an inevitable pandemic, and outbreaks in Italy and Iran spread to more countries.

(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; additional reporting by Tom Balmforth in Moscow, Ben Blanchard in Taipei and Hallie Gu in Beijing; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Mark Heinrich)

Some Samsung, Hyundai workers self-quarantine as Korea Inc braces for virus impact

Some Samsung, Hyundai workers self-quarantine as Korea Inc braces for virus impact
By Hyunjoo Jin and Joyce Lee

SEOUL (Reuters) – Some South Korean workers at Samsung Electronics <005930.KS> and Hyundai Motor <005380.KS> are staying home as a precautionary measure as corporate Korea scrambles to prevent the coronavirus outbreak from causing widespread disruption in its home market.

The country’s third-largest conglomerate SK Group, which controls memory chip maker SK Hynix <000660.KS> and mobile carrier SK Telecom, advised its employees to work remotely starting from Tuesday due to the coronavirus outbreak.

About 1,500 workers of Samsung Electronics’ phone complex in the southeastern city of Gumi have self-quarantined after one of its workers was infected with the disease, a person familiar with the matter said. They include 900 workers who commute to Gumi from neighboring Daegu city, the person said.

The southeastern city of Daegu – the epicenter of the virus outbreak in South Korea- and nearby cities are an industrial hub in South Korea, Asia’s fourth-biggest economy, and home to factories of Samsung Electronics, Hyundai Motor and a number of others.

South Korea on Monday reported 161 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing the total number of infected patients in the country to 763, a day after the government raised its infectious disease alert to its highest level.

Samsung Electronics shares fell 4.1% and Hyundai Motor ended down 4.3%, tracking the wider market’s <.KS11> 3.9% fall, as the spike in new coronavirus cases intensified fears about the epidemic’s fallout on the economy and businesses.

Samsung said it has restarted production at its phone factory complex in Gumi on Monday, after closing it over the weekend, adding that the floor where the infected employee worked will resume production on Tuesday.

“As of 1 p.m. KT (0400 GMT) Feb. 24, the Gumi Complex has started normal operations and we expect no impact on production,” Samsung said in a statement, without elaborating further.

Samsung’s Gumi factory accounts for a small portion of its total phone production, but it produces premium phones and foldable phones, research firm Counterpoint said.

Six employees at Hyundai Motor’s factories in the southeastern city of Ulsan are also at home, with four of them linked to a church at the center of the virus outbreak, a union spokesman said in a statement.

“We are walking on ice,” one Hyundai factory worker told Reuters.

A factory run by Hyundai supplier Seojin Industrial was closed over the weekend after the death of a virus-infected worker, an official at the supplier said. He said that authorities disinfected the factory, located in the city of Gyeongju, and it is unclear when production will resume.

Seojin declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.

Any disruption would be a fresh blow to Hyundai, which has restarted most of its domestic factories’ production after being hit by suspensions due to parts shortages from China.

Ulsan is home to Hyundai’s biggest car factories, and there are a number of suppliers in the city and surrounding areas, which cater not only to the automaker, but export to the United States, Japan and other markets.

A Hyundai Motor spokesman said there has been no production disruption so far as the automaker has inventory.

With virus fears spreading nationwide, Hyundai set up thermal cameras at all of its operations across the nation, including its headquarters in Seoul, to check temperatures.

(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Joyce Lee; Additional reporting by Heekyong Yang; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Muralikumar Anantharaman and Kirsten Donovanh)

After clashes, Ukraine blames disinformation campaign for spreading coronavirus panic

By Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk on Friday blamed an “information war” being waged on the country for spreading panic and mistrust over the coronavirus, a day after the arrival of evacuees from China sparked clashes outside a sanatorium.

Speaking to parliament, Honcharuk said misinformation was being spread from within and outside Ukraine but did not elaborate.

The authorities are trying to find the source of bogus emails sent this week on behalf of the health ministry erroneously declaring there had been confirmed coronavirus cases in Ukraine, when so far there have been none.

In another example, Honcharuk cited an incident of Russian officials asking a wagon-load of passengers traveling on a train from Kiev to Moscow to disembark after a Chinese woman with fever was found to be traveling on board.

The Ukrainian railway service said it has asked Russia for more information on the case.

Police detained 24 people in clashes with residents of a town in central Ukraine on Thursday, who feared they would be infected by Ukrainians who had been evacuated from China’s Hubei province to a sanatorium for a mandatory two week quarantine.

“The events that took place yesterday, in my opinion, are a consequence of, in particular, the information war that continues against our country, both from inside and out,” Honcharuk said.

Protesters in the town of Novi Sanzhary had clashed with police, burned tires and hurled projectiles at a convoy of buses carrying the evacuees to the medical facility.

The authorities had appealed for calm, saying the evacuees were screened to make sure they were not infected before being allowed to fly. Health Minister Zoriana Skaletska announced she would join those in quarantine.

“Our health minister has agreed to stay with the citizens in this medical institution,” Honcharuk said. “This way her example will prove that there is no danger to Ukrainian citizens.”

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the protests had been stoked by “political support” but did not say from where. He appealed to Ukrainians not to vilify those returning from China.

“We constantly say that Ukraine is (a part of) Europe,” he said. “Yesterday, frankly, in some episodes it seemed that we are the Europe of the Middle Ages, unfortunately. Let’s not forget that we are all people.”

(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Ros Russell)

Passengers depart coronavirus cruise ship at last; Japan’s effort under fire

By Linda Sieg and Ryan Woo

TOKYO/BEIJING (Reuters) – Hundreds of people began disembarking a cruise ship in Japan on Wednesday after being held on board for more than two weeks under quarantine, as criticism mounted of Japan’s handling of the biggest coronavirus outbreak outside China.

A member of the media approaches a passenger after he walked out from the cruise ship Diamond Princess at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan February 19, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Even as patients trundled off the Diamond Princess cruise liner with their suitcases, Japanese authorities announced 79 new cases had been discovered on board, bringing the total above 620, well over half the known cases outside mainland China.

In China itself, the death toll from the coronavirus climbed above 2,000, but the tally of newly reported cases fell for a second day to the lowest since January, offering hope and helping Asian shares and U.S. stock futures rise.

China is struggling to get its economy back on track after imposing severe travel restrictions to contain a virus that emerged in the central province of Hubei late last year.

Beyond mainland China, six people have died from the disease, and governments around the world are trying to prevent it from spreading into a global epidemic. The Diamond Princess has been quarantined at a dock at Yokohama near Tokyo since Feb. 3, initially with 3,700 people aboard.

From Wednesday, passengers who tested negative and showed no symptoms were free to leave. Around 500 were expected to disembark on Wednesday, with the rest of those eligible departing over the next two days. Confirmed cases were to be sent to hospital, while those who shared cabins with infected passengers may still be kept on board.

Around half of the passengers and crew are Japanese, and are free to go home once cleared to leave. Other countries have said they will fly passengers home and quarantine them on arrival. The United States flew more than 300 passengers to air bases in California and Texas this week.

“I am very keen to get off this ship,” Australian passenger Vicki Presland told Reuters over a social-media link. She was among a group of Australians getting off to catch an evacuation flight back to 14 days of quarantine in the city of Darwin.

Matthew Smith, an American passenger who remained on board after declining the U.S. evacuation earlier this week, tweeted video of passengers departing with their suitcases.

“Captain wishes ‘Arrivederci’ to the guests departing the ship today but omits his usual ‘Buon Appetito’ to those of us who are still awaiting our fates. Hey, what are we – chopped liver?!” he wrote.

Passengers stand on the cruise ship Diamond Princess at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan February 19, 2020. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

“COMPLETELY INADEQUATE”

The rapid spread of the disease aboard the ship has drawn strong criticism of the Japanese authorities, just months before Japan is due to host the Olympics.

Infectious disease specialist Kentaro Iwata of Japan’s Kobe University Hospital, who volunteered to help aboard the ship, described the infection control effort on board as “completely inadequate”, and said basic protocols had not been followed.

“There was no single professional infection control person inside the ship and there was nobody in charge of infection prevention as a professional. The bureaucrats were in charge of everything,” he said in a YouTube video.

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato defended Japan’s efforts: “Unfortunately, cases of infection have emerged, but we have to the extent possible taken appropriate steps to prevent serious cases,” Kato said in a report by state broadcaster NHK.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Japan’s efforts “may not have been sufficient to prevent transmission among individuals on the ship.”

From the start, experts raised questions about quarantine on the ship. Passengers were not confined to their rooms until Feb. 5. The day before, as passengers were being screened, onboard events continued, including dances, quiz games and an exercise class, one passenger said.

BETTER DAY IN CHINA

The promising sign out of China came from the National Health Commission, which reported 1,749 new confirmed cases, the lowest tally since Jan. 29. Hubei – the epicentre of the outbreak – reported the lowest number of new infections since Feb. 11, while outside of Hubei there were just 56 new cases, down from a peak of 890 on Feb. 3.

The latest figures bring the total number of cases in China to more than 74,000 and the death toll to 2,004, three-quarters of which have occurred in Wuhan, Hubei’s provincial capital.

On top of tough steps taken to isolate Hubei, where the flu-like virus originated in a market illegally selling wildlife, state media reported the province would track down anyone who visited doctors with fever since Jan. 20 or bought over-the-counter cough and fever medication.

Chinese officials have said the apparent slowdown in infection rates is evidence that the strict measures are working. Epidemiologists outside China have said in recent days that the reports from there are encouraging but it is still too early to predict whether the epidemic will be contained.

Chinese officials have been putting on a brave face, saying the economic impact of the virus would be limited and short-term. President Xi Jinping said China could meet its 2020 economic targets, media reported.

Big manufacturing hubs on the coast are starting to loosen curbs on the movement of people and traffic while authorities prod factories to get back to work.

(Reporting by Ryan Woo and Sophie Yu in Beijing; Linda Sieg in Tokyo; Additional reporting by Se Young Lee in Beijing, Brenda Goh and Samuel Shen in Shanghai; Colin Packham in Sydney; Sarah Wu in Hong Kong; Krishna Das in Kuala Lumpur; Josh Smith and Sangmi Cha in Seoul; Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Jan Strupczewski in Brussels and Peter Graff in London; Writing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel and Peter Graff; Editing by Stephen Coates, Simon Cameron-Moore)

Hundreds of Americans flown home from cruise ship, 14 with coronavirus

By David Stanway and Stephen Lam

SHANGHAI/TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (Reuters) – More than 300 American cruise liner passengers, including 14 who tested positive for coronavirus, were flown home to military bases in the United States, after two weeks under quarantine off Japan.

The cruise ship Diamond Princess, with more than 400 cases by far the largest cluster outside China, has become the biggest test so far of other countries’ ability to contain an outbreak that has killed 1,770 people in China and five elsewhere.

Ground crew in anti-contamination suits met a chartered jet that touched down at Joint Base San Antonio in Texas, and passengers could be seen climbing down the stairs wearing face masks in the pre-dawn mist. Another flight landed at Travis Air Force Base in California hours earlier. Those arriving were taken into a two-week quarantine.

Although U.S. officials said passengers with coronavirus symptoms would not be taken, 14 passengers found at the last minute to have tested positive were permitted to board the planes. The U.S. State Department said the infected passengers were kept in isolation on the flights.

Across mainland China, officials said the total number of coronavirus cases rose by 2,048 to 70,548. That was slightly more new cases than were reported on Sunday, but hundreds fewer than reported on Saturday.

Chinese authorities say the stabilization in the number of new cases is a sign that measures they have taken to halt the spread of the disease are having an effect.

However, epidemiologists say it is probably still too early to say how well the outbreak is being contained within China and its central Hubei province, where the virus first appeared. Official figures of new cases have leveled off in the past, only to jump suddenly after changes in methodology.

China has responded to the COVID-19 virus by locking down Hubei’s provincial capital Wuhan, a megacity of 11 million people, and imposing restrictions in a number of other cities.

But the ruling Communist Party is also under pressure to prevent the economy from crashing and get people back to work.

China’s central bank cut the interest rate on its medium-term lending, a move that is expected to pave the way for a reduction in the benchmark loan prime rate on Thursday. Beijing has also announced plans for cuts in taxes and fees.

Even so, economists expect China’s economic growth to slow. Ratings agency Moody’s on Monday lowered its 2020 GDP growth forecast to 5.2%, making it likely China would miss a goal to double GDP over the decade to 2020.

CRUISE SHIPS

Around half of all known cases of the virus outside China have been found aboard the Diamond Princess, where around 400 people have tested positive since the cruise liner was ordered to stay under quarantine off Japan on Feb. 3.

Several other countries have announced plans to follow the United States in bringing passengers home. Around half of the 3,700 passengers and crew are Japanese.

Matthew Smith, an American passenger who remained on the ship after refusing to board the voluntary repatriation flights, tweeted that staying behind was the “best decision ever”.

“US Gov’t said they would not put anyone on the planes who was symptomatic, and they ended up knowingly and intentionally putting on 14 people who actually have the virus,” he wrote.

Authorities around the world were also trying to track down passengers from another cruise liner, the Westerdam, which was turned away from ports across Southeast Asia for two weeks before docking in Cambodia on Thursday.

One American passenger who disembarked in Cambodia tested positive for the virus in Malaysia on Saturday.

Carnival Corp., which operates both cruise liners, said it was cooperating with authorities in trying to trace other passengers from the Westerdam. None of the other 1,454 passengers and 802 crew had reported any symptoms, it said.

“Guests who have already returned home will be contacted by their local health department and be provided further information,” a statement from the company’s Holland America Line unit said. Hundreds of passengers are still in Cambodia, either on the ship or in hotels.

“We will all be tested for the coronavirus today and tomorrow by the Cambodian Ministry of Health,” said passenger Holley Rauen, a public health nurse and midwife from Fort Myers, Florida. “We have no idea when we get to get home.”

CHINA BACK TO WORK?

After an extended Lunar New Year holiday, China needs to get back to work or suffer severe economic consequences. There is a proposal to delay the opening of the annual session of parliament, due on Feb. 24.

Some cities remain in lockdown, streets are deserted, employees are nervous, and travel bans and quarantine orders are in place around the country. Many factories have yet to re-open, disrupting supply chains in China and beyond.

In Japan, where data showed on Monday that the economy had already shrunk last quarter at the fastest pace in almost six years, the impact of the virus is expected to show up in the current quarter, stoking fears of recession.

Trade-dependent Singapore downgraded its 2020 economic growth forecast and has said recession is possible. It is set to unveil measures to cushion the blow on Tuesday.

Organizers of the Tokyo Marathon have decided to limit the March 1 race to top-level athletes, banning 38,000 general participants, a person with knowledge of the issue told Reuters.

Japan’s Imperial Household Agency said it would cancel Emperor Naruhito’s public birthday address on Feb. 23, his first since his coronation last year. The event regularly attracts tens of thousands of people to the inner grounds of the Imperial Palace in the heart of Tokyo.

(Reporting by David Stanway in Shanghai; Claire Baldwin in Sihanoukville; John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Additional reporting by Farah Master in Hong Kong, Sophie Yu in Beijing, Hilary Russ in New York and Daniel Trotta; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Nick Macfie)

Dying a desperate death: A Wuhan family’s coronavirus ordeal

By Yawen Chen and Tony Munroe

BEIJING (Reuters) – There were no doctors, nurses or medical equipment at the Wuhan hotel converted into a temporary quarantine facility for suspected coronavirus patients when brothers Wang Xiangkai and Wang Xiangyou arrived two weeks ago.

The next day, Xiangkai, 61, woke to find that Xiangyou, 62, had died.

The Wangs are among tens of thousands of families devastated by the coronavirus in Wuhan, where the medical system has been overwhelmed by the outbreak, despite massive reinforcements and two speedily built new hospitals.

“What did we do to deserve such punishment?” Wang Wenjun, Xiangkai’s daughter, said over the phone to Reuters.

A crematorium sent a car to pick up Xiangyou’s body, but the family was told no mourning ceremony would be allowed. They could only collect his ashes after 15 days.

Two days before Xiangyou died, doctors at the 4th Hospital of Wuhan had written in a diagnosis that both brothers were likely infected by the coronavirus which has now killed over 1,350 people in China. CT scans showed their lungs had turned “white” with patterns resembling cracked glass, symptomatic of severe viral infections.

But the hospital did not have any RNA test kits to confirm their cases, and thus could not admit them for treatment, according to the doctors. They were told to contact their community government, which on Jan. 30 offered to house the brothers at the hotel.

Hubei province on Thursday reported a sharp rise in the number of deaths and cases after changing its methodology to include those diagnosed through CT scans like Xiangyou. More than 63,000 people have now been infected nationwide and 1,380 have died.

Xiangkai, a retired cab driver, refused to remain at the Echarm hotel after his brother died, instead staying alone at a relative’s home. His wife visited daily, bringing food and Chinese medicine, until she too fell ill with what doctors suspect is the coronavirus.

Wenjun lives on the other side of Wuhan. Closed transportation lines means she is unable to visit her parents.

Desperate for treatment for her father, she issued a plea for help on the Twitter-like Weibo. The community government responded, saying the decision was up to the virus taskface.

At around midnight on Monday, the family received a call saying a hospital bed was available. With no public transport, Wang’s 58-year-old wife pushed him in a wheelchair for the 10-minute trip to the hospital.

A new CT scan showed Xiangkai’s lung infection had worsened. He now has trouble walking to the toilet on his own and is awaiting the results of an RNA test.

“On Jan. 22, our entire family had a Lunar New Year dinner, and we even took a photo together. It has been bad news every day since then,” Wenjun said.

(Reporting by Yawen Chen; Editing by Karishma Singh and Kim Coghill)

Vietnam quarantines rural community of 10,000 because of coronavirus

Vietnam quarantines rural community of 10,000 because of coronavirus
By Phuong Nguyen

HANOI (Reuters) – Vietnam has quarantined a community of 10,000 people near the capital, Hanoi, for 20 days because of fears the coronavirus could spread there, two local officials told Reuters on Thursday.

The rural commune of Son Loi, in the northern Vietnameseprovince of Vinh Phuc, 44 km (27 miles) from Hanoi, is home to11 of the 16 coronavirus cases in the Southeast Asian country,including a three-month-old baby.

“Over 10,000 residents of the commune will not be permitted to leave for the next 20 days, starting from today,” the second of the two the officials told Reuters on Thursday.

“As of this evening, we will still allow those who wish to return home to enter but, in the next few days, this place will be totally be sealed,” the official told Reuters by phone.

Both officials declined to be identified citing the sensitivity of the situation.

The coronavirus arrived in Vinh Phuc after people from the province who had been in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus was first detected, returned home to Vietnam for the Lunar New Year holiday.

The province is home to factories operated by Japan’s Honda and Toyota.

On Wednesday, state media indicated that Vietnam’s Communist-ruled government could completely seal off the Son Loi commune.

On the same day, a Reuters photographer could see checkpoints manned by police and marked by coronavirus warning signs already in place outside Son Loi. People were still allowed to enter and leave the commune, which has a population of 10,641, according to official data.

Health officials wearing protective suits sprayed disinfectant on vehicles at the checkpoints. Local authorities have set up shops and provided food and face masks for residents there, the first official said.

“Everything is still under control,” said the official. “We are trying very hard to stop the virus spreading to other areas and provinces.”

Vietnam declared a public health emergency over the epidemic on Feb. 1 and banned all flights to and from China, where more than 1,300 people have died from the virus.

The southeast Asia country has made plans to quarantine hundreds of Vietnamese citizens returning from China, including 950 at military camps outside Hanoi, and another 900 at temporary facilities on the Vietnam-China border.

(Editing by John Stonestreet and Barbara Lewis)

Australia defends choice of remote detention center to house locals evacuated from Wuhan

Australia defends choice of remote detention center to house locals evacuated from Wuhan
By Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s conservative government on Thursday defended its decision to use a detention center thousands of kilometers from the mainland to quarantine locals evacuated from Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in China.

Australia on Wednesday said it would evacuate “isolated and vulnerable” locals from Wuhan as part of a joint operation with New Zealand.

Some health officials have criticized the decision to move those people to Christmas Island – about 2,600km (1,616 miles) from Australia and that had been used to hold thousands of refugees between 2002 and 2018.

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton said Australia has no other choice.

“The reality is people need to be accommodated for somewhere for up to 14 days. I can’t clear out a hospital in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane,” Dutton told reporters in Canberra. “I don’t have a facility otherwise that we can quickly accommodate for what might be many hundreds of people and Christmas Island is purpose-built for exactly this scenario.”

The detention center on Christmas Island was reopened last year after a decade of being idled. It houses a Tamil family whom Australia wants to deport to Sri Lanka.

Australia, which has seven cases of coronavirus, said about 600 people have told the government they are in Wuhan, though Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was not clear how many wanted to leave China.

Morrison said priority would be given to infants and elderly people.

On Thursday, the global death toll from the epidemic hit 170 people, while the number of infected patients rose to 7,711.

Australia’s defense of its policy came as several countries began isolating hundreds of citizens evacuated from Wuhan.

Nearly 200 Americans, mostly U.S. diplomats and their families, airlifted from Wuhan on Wednesday, will remain isolated at a U.S. military base in California for at least 72 hours of medical observation, public health officials said.

A second flight with Japanese evacuees from Wuhan landed in Japan on Thursday, with nine people showing symptoms of fever or coughing, broadcaster NHK reported. The first flight landed on Wednesday and at least one more is expected in coming days.

New Zealand on Thursday said it would charter an aircraft to assist citizens wanting to leave Wuhan.

(Reporting by Colin Packham. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

New York City defends measles vaccination order in court

FILE PHOTO: A sign warning people of measles in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of Williamsburg, two days after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency in parts of Brooklyn in response to a measles outbreak, is seen in New York, U.S., April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo

By Jonathan Allen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – New York City’s Department of Health defended its mandatory measles vaccination order in a state court on Thursday after a group of anonymous Brooklyn parents sued, arguing that the order was unconstitutional.

The department issued the order last week, saying it was an unusual but necessary step to contain the worst outbreak of the highly contagious virus seen in the city since 1991. The outbreak has infected 329 people so far, most of them children from Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn.

The order, which was extended this week, requires unvaccinated people living in certain affected Brooklyn neighborhoods to get the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine if they cannot otherwise demonstrate immunity to measles, or face a $1,000 fine.

Five people who said they were parents living in the affected neighborhoods sued the department this week in Brooklyn’s Supreme Court, filing their lawsuit anonymously in order, their lawyers said, to protect their children’s privacy.

Their lawyers told Judge Lawrence Knipel that the city had overstepped its authority, saying 329 confirmed cases so far did not constitute an epidemic. They argued that quarantining people with measles would be a preferable approach.

“It’s excessive, it’s coercive,” Robert Krakow, a lawyer for the parents, said in court. He said he estimated that 0.0006 percent of the population of Brooklyn and Queens had measles. “That’s not an epidemic,” he said. “It’s not Ebola. It’s not smallpox.” He said even vaccinated people could spread the virus and that the vaccination carried a “risk of injury,” which the city disputed.

The department’s lawyers argued that this is a serious outbreak and that quarantining was ineffective because infected people can be contagious before symptoms appear. They said the lawsuit relied on bogus or discredited science.

Lawyers for the Health Department said three or more cases constituted an outbreak, given the United States had declared the disease eliminated in 2000, meaning it is no longer present year round. Measles can lead to serious complications and death.

“The percentage is irrelevant,” Sherrill Kurland, a lawyer from the city’s Law Department, told the court. “The rates of transmission has continued to increase. These areas remain serious for concern.”

The Brooklyn outbreak has been traced to an unvaccinated child who became infected on a visit to Israel, which is also grappling with an outbreak.

The number of measles cases worldwide nearly quadrupled in the first quarter of 2019 to 112,163 compared with the same period last year, the World Health Organization said this week, while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported measles cases in at least 20 U.S. states.

Judge Knipel said he would release his decision on whether to temporarily block the city’s order by the end of the week.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Ebola Death Leads to Quarantine Zone in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone officials confirmed to world news outlets the death of a 67-year-old woman from Ebola and the quarantine of the entire village where she was living.

“Over 970 people are being monitored under quarantine as there is information that they had had some contact with the deceased woman who tested positive after her death,” the district Ebola response office said in a report distributed to reporters.

“From those under quarantine, 48 are considered as high risk and they are in various holding centers in the district and not treatment centers, as none of them have exhibited any signs and symptoms of Ebola.”

Local officials say that the woman lived in the village of Sella Kafta and was sick for 10 days without any officials being alerted to her symptoms.

Without any further victims of the disease, the quarantine will last three weeks.

A BBC correspondent on the ground the Sierra Leone said the government is using a stricter quarantine than in previous cases.  Residents are being prohibited from moving from house to house.

Soldiers and police are surrounding the town and allowing no one but authorized government officials and health workers to enter or leave the area.