More than a dozen infected Americans from a coronavirus-riddled cruise ship off Japan flew on evacuation flights to the US with other passengers on Monday, as the epidemic claimed more lives in China to take the death toll above 1,700.
The COVID-19 virus has infected more than 70,500 people in its epicentre of China and sparked panic buying, economic jitters and the cancellation of high-profile sporting and cultural events.
With fresh cases emerging daily in Japan, the government has advised citizens to avoid mass gatherings, and on Monday cancelled celebrations for the Emperor’s birthday — an annual jamboree that sees thousands of well-wishers descend on central Tokyo.
Beijing’s municipal authorities have ordered everyone arriving in the capital to self-quarantine for 14 days, the presumed incubation period of the virus. State media said China may postpone its annual parliament session for the first time in 35 years.
Outside China, the biggest cluster of infections is from the Diamond Princess cruise ship off Japan’s Yokohama, where 355 cases have been diagnosed despite passengers being confined to their cabins during a 14-day quarantine.
As criticism grows of Japan’s handling of the ship crisis, governments are scrambling to repatriate their citizens, with Canada, Australia, Italy, and Hong Kong poised to follow Washington in removing nationals from the vessel.
Early Monday more than 300 passengers were transferred onto coaches via a makeshift passport control and loaded onto two planes heading for air bases in California and Texas.
The first flight touched down at Travis Air Force Base in California shortly before midnight Sunday. Before they boarded the flights, US officials were informed 14 of them tested days earlier had received positive results. Authorities allowed them to board but isolated them from other passengers in a “special containment area”.
Those on board were expected to undergo a further 14-day quarantine period on US soil.
Australia became the latest country to order its citizens evacuated from the ship, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying more than 200 Australians still on board would be rescued on Wednesday.