Thousands of passengers became stranded aboard two cruise ships in Japan and Hong Kong on Wednesday amid reports of coronavirus infections on board, while in China the death toll from the disease climbed to nearly 500.
Japan confirmed that at least 10 people on a cruise ship have been infected with the new coronavirus, which originated in China.
The patients, including nine passengers and one crew member, were from Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, the U.S., and the Philippines.
They were being taken to hospital in Kanagawa prefecture, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said at a news conference.
About 3,700 passengers and crew members were to remain on the Diamond Princess ship for another 14 days “as a general rule,” he said.
A previous passenger from Hong Kong was confirmed to have the virus on Saturday after disembarking from the ship there, bringing the total number of infections in Japan to 33.
A cruise ship with 1,800 people on board was also being held at Hong Kong’s Kai Tak cruise terminal after officials in China informed the cruise operator that three previous passengers had tested positive for the coronavirus.
The ship arrived in Hong Kong Wednesday morning after Taiwanese officials refused entry.
Authorities said they were carrying out testing and sterilization on board. Three crew members with fever were placed in isolation in a Hong Kong hospital, and more than 20 crew members who reported symptoms were being examined, according to local broadcaster RTHK.
In mainland China, where the new coronavirus originated late last year, the death toll from the disease rose to 490 with 24,324 people confirmed infected, according to the National Health Commission.
The U.S. and Russia evacuated hundreds of their citizens from the central city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak.
Two U.S. evacuation flights departed Wuhan en route to military air bases in California, following an initial evacuation flight on Jan. 29.
Together, these three flights accommodated more than 500 passengers, according to a U.S. Embassy spokesperson.
Another flight was scheduled to leave Wuhan on Thursday.
A Russian plane carrying 80 Russian citizens also evacuated Wuhan on Wednesday.
The flight was bound for the Tyumen region in western Siberia, where the evacuees were going to be placed temporarily in a medical facility, according to TASS news agency.
Meanwhile, an Air New Zealand flight from Wuhan carrying 190 passengers, including New Zealand citizens and people from 11 other countries, arrived in Auckland on Wednesday evening.
About 2,000 medical personnel were due to arrive as reinforcements in Hubei province by Tuesday evening.
Thousands of other medics, including People’s Liberation Army personnel, had been sent there in recent weeks.
Authorities said during a meeting chaired by Premier Li Keqiang that they might require hotels, stadiums, and training centres in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, to admit suspected and mild cases of the disease.
Wuhan has struggled to accommodate the rising numbers of patients over the past few weeks, with lines of hundreds of people forming in front of hospitals and medical supplies running out.
Two additional hospitals were ordered to be built in less than two weeks.
The first medical centre, equipped with 1,000 beds, was inaugurated on Monday, with the second expected to open on Wednesday.
The virus has spread to about two dozen countries since first being identified in December, prompting the World Health Organisation to declare a global emergency.
Several countries have imposed travel bans, and airlines have suspended some of their flights to China.
In the semi-autonomous Chinese territory of Hong Kong, medical personnel went on a strike demanding that all borders with mainland China be closed.
Hong Kong on Wednesday confirmed three new coronavirus cases that were transmitted locally, bringing up the total number to 18.
The coronavirus broke out at a seafood market in Wuhan, in central China, which reportedly sold exotic animals for consumption – similar to the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, SARS.
SARS, a disease that infected 8,000 people and killed 800 globally between 2002 and 2003, and also began in China, was linked to the consumption of civet cats, another exotic meat.
The coronavirus belongs to the same family of viruses.