Cruise ship passengers await Florida deal allowing them to disembark

By Zach Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) – The U.S. government and Florida were working on a plan on Wednesday to allow thousands of cruise ship passengers exposed to an onboard coronavirus outbreak to disembark, a day after President Donald Trump urged the governor to drop his opposition to their docking.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said he was not opposed to them docking in his city. But he said a clear protocol was needed to protect residents of his South Florida city from infection.

“There can be no missteps in this process,” he told CNN.

“We have to be comfortable knowing that they are being quarantined in such a way that they do not infect the rest of the community,” Trantalis said.

One of the two Dutch cruise ships involved is Holland America Line’s MS Zaandam. Nearly two-thirds of its passengers, those who passed a medical screening, were moved to the line’s sister ship, the Rotterdam.

Both vessels were on the way to Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale, the Zaandam carrying nearly 1,050 passengers and crew, and the Rotterdam almost 1,450.

Florida has reported 6,490 cases of coronavirus, including 251 non-residents, and 85 deaths, according to the state website. It ranks eighth in the number of new cases reported in the past 24 hours, analyst Michael Newshel of investment bank Evercore ISI said in a research note.

For the country as a whole, the tally stands at more than 190,000 reported cases and nearly 4,000 deaths, a toll that shot up by more than 850 on Tuesday, by far the most for a single day. Nearly half of the new fatalities were in New York state, the epicenter of the pandemic despite closed businesses and deserted streets.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued a stay-at-home order on Monday for four counties in southern Florida that will last until April 15 and then be reviewed. On Tuesday, he said the White House task force had not recommended a statewide order.

“If they do, that’s something that would carry a lot of weight with me,” DeSantis told reporters.

Florida’s Democrats in the U.S. Congress published an open-letter to DeSantis renewing a call for him to issue a statewide stay-at-home order, saying the decision cannot be left to county and municipal governments.

“This pandemic has not respected global borders so it certainly will not respect county borders,” said the letter, which was signed by U.S. Representative Lois Frankel and 12 other members of Congress.

SICK AND STUCK

Jennifer Allan, whose 75-year-old father and 70-year-old mother are sick and stuck aboard the cruise ship Zaandam, was asked on NBC’s “Today” what she would say if she could speak with DeSantis:

“I would beg him and everybody who has the power to make this happen that we need to look at the humanity of what’s going on right now. There needs to be compassion for these people.

Another Florida official, Broward County Mayor Dale Holness, said the port was being operated by a “unified command” of federal and state agencies discussing the situation.

“As it stands today, they’re going back and forth, working on a plan to ensure that we’re safeguarding the people of Broward County from further spread of this virus, but also seeing how we can find a way to deal with these folks” in a humanitarian manner, Holness said on MSNBC.

GRAPHIC: Tracking the spread of the global coronavirus – https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-MAP/0100B59S39E/index.html

NEW MONTH, NEW CONCERNS

With rent and mortgage payments due on Wednesday, the first day of the month, job losses soaring, medical equipment in short supply and a projected coronavirus death toll in the United States of up to 240,000 people, Americans steeled themselves for months of uncertainty.

Medical experts on the U.S. government’s coronavirus task force on Tuesday said they were predicting that even with strict observance of stay-at-home orders and other precautions, between 100,000 to 240,000 people could ultimately die from the respiratory disease.

Public health officials are debating whether to recommend that people wear protective face masks even as an emergency stockpile of medical equipment maintained by the U.S. government has nearly run out of protective gear.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, interviewed on the NBC News “Today” program on Wednesday, said officials were weighing potential new guidelines given the role of asymptomatic people carrying the virus but that people wearing masks should try not to touch their face and should still save N95 masks for healthcare workers.

“Wearing a face covering does not mean that you don’t have to practice social distancing. The most important thing you can do is stay at home right now,” Adams said.

The start of April brings a moment of reckoning for millions who have lost jobs and are forced to stay at home – their rent and mortgage checks are due.

Many Americans have already lost their jobs – last week’s national unemployment claims exceeded 3 million, shattering previous records.

Coronavirus news: https://emea1.apps.cp.extranet.thomsonreuters.biz/cms/?navid=919104201

(Reporting by Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu, Tim Ahmann, Daniel Trotta and Peter Szekely; Writing by Grant McCool; Editing by Howard Goller)

Moscow rounds up stray animals, kills rats over coronavirus fears

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Moscow authorities are rounding up stray animals and exterminating rats as a precaution against the new coronavirus, actions that animal rights campaigners decried as cruel and scientifically groundless.

Russia has imposed an array of measures to stop the virus gaining a foothold in Russia, ranging from restrictions on flights to China and South Korea to visa curbs for Iranian and Chinese citizens.

“We are currently carrying out a large-scale complex (of measures) for the total deratization of the city, catching wild animals, strays,” Elena Andreeva, the Moscow head of the Rospotrepnadzor consumer health watchdog, was quoted as saying by the RIA news agency.

She did not explain the reasoning for the moves but said they were part of measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Hundreds of people have been quarantined across Russia and authorities in Moscow have carried out raids on potential carriers of the virus and used facial recognition technology to enforce quarantine measures.

Barking News, a Russian media outlet that covers news about animals, decried the action against stray dogs and cats as “stupid, unscientific and simply cruel”.

It cited a Moscow-based virologist, Nikolai Nikitin, as saying there was no evidence stray dogs and cats could contract the new coronavirus or subsequently transmit it to people.

Moscow used to have a large population of stray dogs and cats, but they have become a rare sight in central Moscow though packs of stray dogs are sometimes seen outside the center. Stray cats are more common.

Three Russian nationals are receiving treatment in Russia after they contracted the coronavirus on a cruise ship in Japan and were subsequently repatriated, authorities have said.

Before that, two Chinese nationals were hospitalized in Russia with the virus, but they have since recovered and been discharged.

(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Timothy Heritage)

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)

Factbox: Countries evacuating nationals from China coronavirus areas

(Reuters) – A growing number of countries around the world are evacuating or planning to evacuate diplomatic staff and citizens from parts of China hit by the new coronavirus.

Following are some countries’ evacuation plans, and how they aim to manage the health risk from those who are returning.

– Canada, after evacuating 215 last week, flew back 185 Canadians from Wuhan on Feb. 11. All evacuees will be quarantined on the Trenton, Ontario base for two weeks.

– Ukraine is preparing to evacuate its citizens from Wuhan on Feb. 11 by special charter plane to Kiev, the country’s embassy in China said on Feb. 10. Returning citizens would be put into mandatory quarantine for two weeks.

– A second evacuation flight is bringing back another 174 Singaporeans and their family members from Wuhan to the city-state on Feb. 9, Singapore’s foreign ministry said.

– Thirty Filipinos returned to the Philippines on Feb. 9 from Wuhan, the Department of Foreign Affairs said. The returning passengers and a 10-member government team will be quarantined for 14 days.

– Britain’s final evacuation flight from Wuhan, carrying more than 200 people, landed at a Royal Air Force base in central England on Feb. 9. A plane carrying 83 British and 27 European Union nationals from Wuhan landed in Britain last week.

– Two planes with about 300 passengers, mostly U.S. citizens, took off from Wuhan on Feb. 6 bound for the United States – the third group of evacuees from the heart of the coronavirus outbreak, the U.S. State Department said.

– Uzbekistan has evacuated 251 people from China and quarantined them on arrival in Tashkent, the Central Asian nation’s state airline said on Feb. 6.

– A plane load of New Zealanders, Australians and Pacific Islanders evacuated from Wuhan arrived in Auckland, New Zealand on Feb. 5, officials said.

– Taiwan has evacuated the first batch of an estimated 500 Taiwanese stranded in Wuhan.

– The 34 Brazilians evacuated from Wuhan landed in Brazil on Feb. 9, where they will begin 18 days of quarantine.

– Italy flew back 56 nationals from Wuhan to Rome on Feb. 3. The group will spend two weeks in quarantine in a military hospital, the government said.

– Saudi Arabia has evacuated 10 students from Wuhan, Saudi state television reported on Feb. 2.

– Indonesia’s government flew 243 Indonesians from Hubei on Feb. 2 and placed them under quarantine at a military base on an island northwest of Borneo.

– South Korea flew 368 people home on a charter flight that arrived on Jan. 31. A second chartered flight departed Seoul for Wuhan on Jan. 31, with plans to evacuate around 350 more South Korean citizens.

– Japan chartered a third flight to repatriate Japanese people, which arrived from Wuhan on Jan. 31, bringing the number of repatriated nationals to 565.

– Kazakhstan, which previously evacuated 83 people from Wuhan, will send two planes to China on Feb. 10 and Feb. 12 to evacuate its citizens. Out of 719 Kazakhs remaining in China, 391 have asked to be repatriated.

– Spain’s government is working with China and the European Union to repatriate its nationals.

– Russia said it would begin moving its citizens out of China via its Far Eastern region on Feb. 1, regional authorities said. It plans to evacuate more than 600 Russian citizens currently in Hubei, Deputy Prime Minister Tatiana Golikova said. A first Russian military plane took off on Feb. 4 to evacuate Russian citizens from Wuhan, the RIA news agency reported.

– The Netherlands is preparing the voluntary evacuation of 20 Dutch nationals and their families from Hubei, Foreign Minister Stef Blok said. The Netherlands is finalising arrangements with EU partners and Chinese authorities.

– France has evacuated some nationals from Wuhan and said it would place the passengers in quarantine. It said it would first evacuate nationals without symptoms and then those showing symptoms at a later, unspecified date.

– Swiss authorities said they hope to have about 10 citizens join the French evacuation of nationals from China.

– A plane brought 138 Thai nationals home from Wuhan last week. They will spend two weeks in quarantine.

(Compiled by Aditya Soni and Milla Nissi; Editing by Susan Fenton)

Mumps, other outbreaks force U.S. detention centers to quarantine over 2,000 migrants

FILE PHOTO: A vial of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and an information sheet is seen at Boston Children's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts February 26, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/File Photo

By Mica Rosenberg and Kristina Cooke

(Reuters) – Christian Mejia thought he had a shot at getting out of immigration detention in rural Louisiana after he found a lawyer to help him seek asylum.

Then he was quarantined.

In early January, a mumps outbreak at the privately run Pine Prairie U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Processing Center put Mejia and hundreds of other detainees on lockdown. “When there is just one person who is sick, everybody pays,” Mejia, 19, said in a phone interview from the Pine Prairie center describing weeks without visits and access to the library and dining hall.

His attorney was not allowed in, but his immigration court case continued anyway – over a video conference line. On Feb. 12, the judge ordered Mejia deported back to Honduras.

The number of people amassed in immigration detention under the Trump administration has reached record highs, raising concerns among migrant advocates about disease outbreaks and resulting quarantines that limit access to legal services.

As of March 6, more than 50,000 migrants were in detention, according to ICE data.

Internal emails reviewed by Reuters reveal the complications of managing outbreaks like the one at Pine Prairie, since immigrant detainees often are transferred around the country and infected people do not necessarily show symptoms of viral diseases even when they are contagious.

Mumps can easily spread through droplets of saliva in the air, especially in close quarters. While most people recover within a few weeks, complications include brain swelling, sterility and hearing loss.

ICE health officials have been notified of 236 confirmed or probable cases of mumps among detainees in 51 facilities in the past 12 months, compared to no cases detected between January 2016 and February 2018. Last year, 423 detainees were determined to have influenza and 461 to have chicken pox. All three diseases are largely preventable by vaccine.

As of March 7, a total of 2,287 detainees were quarantined around the country, ICE spokesman Brendan Raedy told Reuters.

Ten Democratic members of Congress sent a letter on Feb. 28 to ICE acting Director Ronald Vitiello seeking more information about viral diseases at immigration detention centers in Colorado, Arizona and Texas. Lawmakers did not mention the Pine Prairie outbreak.

Pablo Paez, a spokesman for the GEO Group, the private prison operator that runs Pine Prairie under government contract, said its medical professionals follow standards set by ICE and health authorities. He said medical care provided to detainees allows the company “to detect, treat and follow appropriate medical protocols to manage an infectious outbreak.”

‘UNPRECEDENTED NUMBERS’

The first cases at Pine Prairie were detected in January in four migrants who had been recently transferred from the Tallahatchie County Correctional Facility in Mississippi, according to internal emails.

Tallahatchie, run by private detention company CoreCivic Inc, has had five confirmed cases of mumps and 18 cases of chicken pox since January, according to company spokeswoman Amanda Gilchrist. She said no one who was diagnosed was transferred out of the facility while the disease was active.

Tallahatchie houses hundreds of migrants recently apprehended along the U.S.- Mexico border, ICE said.

On Tuesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told reporters that changing demographics on the southwest border, with more immigrants from Central America traveling long distances, overwhelmed border officials and raised health concerns.

“We are seeing migrants arrive with illnesses and medical conditions in unprecedented numbers,” McAleenan said at a press conference.

However, vaccination rates in the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are above 90 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ICE detainees come from countries all over the world, with varying degrees of vaccination coverage.

‘HIGH-PROFILE REMOVAL’

At Pine Prairie, staff members were at times at odds with the warden about how to manage the mumps outbreak, internal emails show. The warden decided not to quarantine 40 new arrivals from Tallahatchie in February despite concerns raised by the medical staff, one email showed.

The warden, Indalecio Ramos, who referred questions about the outbreak to ICE and the GEO Group, argued that quarantining the transfers would keep them from attending their court hearings, the facility’s health service administrator wrote in a Feb. 7 email.

In a Feb. 21 email, ICE requested that medical staff members at Pine Prairie clear a detainee quarantined for chicken pox and mumps for travel, calling him a “high-profile removal scheduled for deport.” In an email to staff later that day, warden Ramos wrote that medical staff had wanted to exclude the detainee from transfer but “ICE wants him to travel out of the country anyway … Please ensure he leaves.”

ICE spokesman Raedy said that travel is restricted for people who are known to be contagious but those exposed to diseases who are asymptomatic can travel.

Since January, the 1,094-bed Pine Prairie facility has had 18 detainees with confirmed or probable cases of mumps compared to no cases in 2018, according to ICE. As of mid-February, 288 people were under quarantine at Pine Prairie. Mejia said his quarantine ended on Feb. 25.

Detention centers in other states also have seen a rise in outbreaks.

There have been 186 mumps cases in immigration detention facilities in Texas since October, the largest outbreak in centers there in recent years, said Lara Anton, the press officer for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

In Colorado, at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility near Denver, run by the GEO Group, 357 people have been quarantined following eight confirmed and five suspected cases of mumps detected since February, as well as six cases of chicken pox diagnosed since the beginning of January, said Dr. Bernadette Albanese from the Tri County Health Department in Colorado.

Civil rights attorney Danielle Jefferis said court hearings for quarantined immigrants at Aurora were largely canceled.

At Pine Prairie on Feb. 12, Mejia said he felt confused and hopeless during his video hearing, with no attorney by his side.

After Mejia’s lawyers complained, attorneys were allowed to visit quarantined detainees on Feb. 13 – one day too late for Mejia.

While he is appealing his case, his lawyers say he could be deported at any time.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York and Kristina Cooke in San Francisco; Editing by Julie Marquis, Paul Thomasch and Lisa Shumaker)