Coronavirus deaths reach 563, with fresh cases on stricken cruise ship off Japan

The death toll from the coronavirus outbreak in China has reached 563, as health experts prepared to meet in Geneva next week in an attempt to develop a vaccine and Japan reported 10 more infections among passengers aboard a luxury cruise liner quarantined outside Yokohama.

Chinese authorities said on Thursday the death toll had risen by 73 in the previous 24 hours – the third record daily rise in a row – with 70 of the deaths recorded in Hubei province, the centre of the outbreak.

Hospitals in Wuhan, the Hubei city where the virus is thought to have originated, said they were struggling to find enough beds for thousands of newly infected patients.

China’s national health commission said that, as of midnight Wednesday, there were 28,018 confirmed cases throughout the country – a rise of 3,694 and the biggest 24-hour rise – as well as 24,702 suspected cases.

Outside mainland China, at least 230 cases have been confirmed, including two fatalities, one in Hong Kong and another in the Philippines.

Japan on Thursday confirmed another 10 infections among 3,700 passengers and crew stuck onboard the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship moored off the port of Yokohama, near Tokyo. Ten people had tested positive for the illness on Wednesday.

Japanese health officials now have the results of 102 tests conducted on 273 passengers and crew who complained of feeling unwell or had been in close contact with a man in his 80s who disembarked late last month and tested positive on his return home to Hong Kong.

The 20 cases recorded so far onboard the ship bring the number of infections in Japan to 45 – the highest total outside mainland China.

The 10 new cases involve four people from Japan, two each from the US and Canada, and one each from New Zealand and Taiwan, the health ministry said, adding that five were in their 70s, four in their 60s and one in their 50s.

TV footage showed the vessel arriving at Yokohama port to take on food and other supplies and hand over the infected patients, who are being treated at hospitals in the Yokohama area. Port officials could be seen dressed in white full-body protective suits, face masks and helmets.

Hundreds of experts will gather in Geneva early next week in an attempt to find a way to fight back against the outbreak by speeding up research into drugs and vaccines, the World Health Organization (WHO) said, while playing down speculation that the search for a treatment was making progress.

The WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, on Wednesday asked for $675m to help countries address the expected spread of the virus. He acknowledged that the sum was large, but said it was “much less than the bill we will face if we do not invest in preparedness now”.

Hu Lishan, a senior official in Wuhan, said the city, with a population of 11 million, was facing a “severe” shortage of beds. Hu said 8,182 patients had been admitted to 28 hospitals that have a total of 8,254 beds, adding that they also had inadequate supplies of equipment and materials.

‘Little bit more nervous now’
Passengers onboard the Diamond Princess, meanwhile, faced another 12 full days quarantined inside their cabins.

Vera Koslova, an Australian passenger, told the ABC that frustration amongst passengers was rising: “There’s been no announcements made as yet by the captain to let us know that there has been more cases,” she said on Thursday.

“I’m quite patient and have a very positive attitude and know that the Australian government is trying to do everything possible as well as Japan. But, um, just getting just a little bit more nervous now.”

Her compatriots, Paul and Jacqui Fidrmuc, also complained about the lack of information from the ship’s operator, saying they were relying on media reports.

“The concern we have is we might have the virus and we don’t have the symptoms,” Paul Fidrmuc said. “It’s a frightening situation but it is not a disease where if you get it, it’s certain death. You just have to be lighthearted about the whole situation.”

David Abel, a British passenger, said in a Facebook post that the crew were responding to requests to make their quarantine more bearable, including offering a wider selection of food.

Thursday’s lunch menu included a smoked turkey salad appetiser and a choice of stir fried chicken, shrimp or tofu – all with vegetables – and, for dinner, a choice of vegetable lasagna, beef stew or pasta gratin.

“That’s not like prison food, it’ll be good,” said Abel, who is with his wife, Sally, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary

Gay Courter, a 75-year-old American, said her biggest worry was that she had been infected without being aware of it. “We are hopeful that the US government will be sending transport for the Americans on board. It’s better for us to travel while healthy and also if we get sick to be treated in American hospitals.”

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

Authorities said 33 crew members on the World Dream had developed respiratory tract infection symptoms and three had been sent to a hospital for isolation and management after developing fevers. All but one of the 33 tested negative for the coronavirus, with the remaining test pending, the city’s health department said.

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