BEIJING — A respected neurologist who was director of Wuchang Hospital in Wuhan died Tuesday after contracting the novel coronavirus, despite a “full-effort rescue,” according to Wuhan’s municipal health commission.

Liu Zhiming, 51, became the most prominent victim of the outbreak since another doctor, whistleblower Li Wenliang, died Feb. 7, sparking an outpouring of public anger and grief. Liu’s death follows that last week of a nurse, Liu Fan, from the same hospital. A total of eight front-line health workers have died, while as many as 3,000 have been infected with the coronavirus.

The number of coronavirus infections across China continues to rise, although at a slower rate outside the epicenter of Hubei province.

Officials have been sounding a more upbeat note in recent days about the prospects for containing the virus. But a renowned Chinese pulmonologist who predicted a peak this month has since clarified his remarks to say that the peak may be followed by a plateau, rather than an outright fall in cases. Here is what we know:

● A neurologist and a retired nurse who returned to work have died after becoming infected while treating coronavirus patients in Wuhan, the outbreak’s epicenter. Their deaths bring the total number of medical workers who have succumbed to the virus to eight.

● A Chinese pulmonologist predicted the number of infections will plateau, rather than fall, after hitting a peak later this month. World Health Organization experts are still struggling to understand how fatal and contagious the disease is outside China due to a lack of data, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news briefing Tuesday.

● The Diamond Princess quarantine will end as scheduled on Wednesday, said Japan’s health minister, as 88 more cases were discovered, bringing the total linked to the ship to 542.

● Russia will temporarily suspend entry of Chinese citizens due to the coronavirus outbreak starting Thursday, banning them from traveling to Russia for employment, tourism and education.

Chinese officials reported 74,185 cases of coronavirus in the Chinese mainland, including 2,004 deaths. In the past 24 hours China reported 1,749 new cases, using its newer metric, which includes both lab-confirmed cases and those confirmed by clinics. Outside China there are now 804 cases in 25 countries, with three deaths, WHO officials said at its daily news conference in Geneva on Tuesday.

February 18, 2020 at 7:50 PM EST

Coronavirus death toll passes 2,000, with 136 new fatalities in China

Chinese health officials reported early Wednesday that the coronavirus killed another 136 people, all but four in Hubei Province, bringing the outbreak’s cumulative death toll to 2,004.

There were also 1,749 new cases of the novel virus, which has sickened more than 74,000 people to date, according to China’s health commission.

Sixty-two people have been infected in Hong Kong, ten in Macau and 22 in Taiwan.

By Derek Hawkins
February 18, 2020 at 6:55 PM EST

The World Health Organization’s emergency division is woefully underfunded, report says

The World Health Organization division in charge of responding to the coronavirus outbreak is dangerously underfunded, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported, further fueling doubts about the U.N. agency’s ability to coordinate a global response to the deadly virus.

Leaked WHO audits showed that financing for the WHO Emergencies Program was so deficient that it posed a “severe” and “unacceptable” risk to the agency as a whole, according to ABC.

A separate risk assessment from March 2019 found that chronic underfunding of the program could lead to “failure to adequately manage multiple, simultaneous or consecutive [high-level] emergencies, resulting in poor performance and results at a country level,” the Australian national broadcaster reported.

A WHO spokeswoman played down the funding shortfall’s impact on the agency’s operations. “We have made strides in improved raising of finance and the fact that we have managed multiple grade-three emergencies simultaneously suggests that while a risk, we have managed it,” she told ABC.

The WHO has faced mounting criticism over its handling of the coronavirus crisis. The agency came under fire earlier this month from health experts who said the WHO director general’s praise for the Chinese government in the early weeks of the outbreak created a false sense of security as the virus swept across China.

“We were deceived,” Lawrence Gostin, a professor of global health law at Georgetown University who also provides technical assistance to the WHO, told The Washington Post. “Myself and other public health experts, based on what the World Health Organization and China were saying, reassured the public that this was not serious, that we could bring this under control.”

“We were,” he added, “giving a false sense of assurance.”

The WHO’s laudatory remarks about Chinese leadership — which came even as Beijing silenced whistleblowers and underreported infections — have strained the agency’s credibility, some experts said.

“I’m concerned about whether they can actually assume leadership effectively in terms of the international response,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Others echoed those concerns in comments to the Australian national broadcaster this week, questioning whether the WHO Emergencies Program, which was established in 2016, could fulfill its mandate without proper funding.

WHO’s program is “in a constant state of crisis,” Adam Kamradt-Scott, a global health security expert at Sydney University, told ABC. “They had a series of emergency health crises to deal with from day one … [and yet] they have consistently been forced to hold donor meetings to get more money into the fund.”

By Derek Hawkins and Emily Rauhala
February 18, 2020 at 5:38 PM EST

Number of Canadians aboard Diamond Princess with coronavirus jumps to 43

TORONTO — The number of Canadians aboard the Diamond Princess with coronavirus has jumped to 43, Canadian officials said Tuesday, an increase of 11 people from the day before.

The government is aiming to evacuate all asymptomatic Canadians and permanent residents from Japan on Feb. 20 or 21, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne told reporters. The airplane that was chartered to bring them home experienced unforeseen technical issues during takeoff, he said, but is now en route.

It’s not clear how many Canadians want to board the flight.

Ottawa has faced criticism for being too slow to evacuate its Canadians, first from the epicenter of the virus’s outbreak in Wuhan, and now from the Diamond Princess. Critics point out that some Americans evacuated from the cruise liner have already arrived in the United States.

The evacuated Canadians will land in Trenton, Ontario, where they will be assessed. From there, they will be transported to the NAV Canada Training Institute in Cornwall, Ontario, for a further 14 days of quarantine.

Earlier in the day, Health Minister Patty Hajdu visited the hundreds of Canadian evacuees from Wuhan who are in quarantine at a Canadian military base. So far, none has tested positive for the virus.

By Amanda Coletta
February 18, 2020 at 5:20 PM EST

Americans on Diamond Princess or in hospitals in Japan must undergo 14-day quarantine before returning to U.S., CDC says

U.S. health officials said Tuesday that more than 100 U.S. citizens still onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship or in hospitals in Japan have been placed under travel restrictions, preventing them from returning to the United States for at least 14 days after they had left the cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a statement said the quarantine on the ship “may not have been sufficient to prevent transmission among individuals on the ship.” As a result, “CDC believes the rate of new infections on board, especially among those without symptoms, represents an ongoing risk.”

More than 300 Americans were evacuated from the cruise ship earlier this week and flown to quarantine centers in the United States, but some U.S. passengers chose to remain on the Diamond Princess. About 40 Americans who tested positive for the virus are in hospitals in Japan, U.S. officials have said.

To protect the health of the American public, the remaining U.S. passengers and crew of the ship will not be allowed to return to the United States for at least 14 days after disembarking, the CDC said. The Japanese government intends to start the disembarking process on Wednesday. According to a State Department spokesman, that process will take place “over a number of days.”

U.S. citizens will be receiving more formal follow-up notification from the CDC, the State Department said.

The CDC said the U.S passengers and crew and those in hospitals in Japan will be required to wait 14 days without having symptoms or a positive coronavirus test result before they are permitted to board flights to the United States.

If someone from the cruise arrives in the United States before the 14-day period ends, they will still be subject to mandatory quarantine until they have completed the 14-day period with no symptoms or positive test results.

Because of their high-risk exposure, the CDC said there may be additional confirmed coronavirus cases among the remaining passengers on board the cruise ship.

By Lena H. Sun
February 18, 2020 at 4:04 PM EST

Large-scale quarantines probably violate international health regulations, experts say

Hundreds of millions of people across China are on lockdown. The government says the restrictions are needed to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.

But under international health regulations that United Nations member states have agreed to uphold, China in some cases has not met the criteria for imposing quarantines, according to some public health experts.

International regulations allow for “the least restrictive measure needed to achieve the public health goal,” said Alexandra Phelan, a faculty research instructor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Georgetown University. “The quarantine imposed must not be discriminatory or arbitrary, must have scientific basis, and must be the least restrictive option available.”

She added, “Quarantines on a large scale tend to be very arbitrary by their very nature. ... They are unlikely to meet this criterion.”

In the United States, the commerce clause of the Constitution provides the federal government the power to isolate and quarantine people, and the Public Health Service Act gives the U.S. secretary of health and human services the authority to take actions to prevent communicable diseases from entering and spreading from other countries and between states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been delegated with the powers to carry out daily efforts to this effect.

Globally, while international regulations apply, it’s up to each country to determine how it implements a quarantine — and whether it follows the agreed-upon guidelines.

In practice, “there aren’t a lot of sticks to enforce international health law,” said Lauren Sauer, an assistant professor of emergency health at Johns Hopkins University.

In the current case of China, public health experts have warned that widespread quarantines and travel bans could backfire by denying people needed medical care and pushing cases underground.

“The IHR [International Health Regulations] allows for the use of quarantine and isolation,” Sauer said. “But this scope and this sort of size of quarantine, this mass movement restriction, is unprecedented.”

Sauer said that the quarantine Japan imposed on the Diamond Princess, a cruise liner kept in isolation as increasing numbers of patients reported infections, could even have been a “violation of human rights” by keeping people locked up in close quarters with the virus.

She disagreed with the decision by the World Health Organization and some governments to initially support this approach. But she said the WHO was “doing the best they can in a very political climate.”

Sauer said her criticism of the ongoing quarantines, and calls for revising and clarifying quarantine guidelines, should not detract from the overall importance of supporting and improving public health institutions.

“We need the WHO and we will continue to rely on them and continue to support their responsive efforts as much as we can as a public health community,” she said.

By Miriam Berger
February 18, 2020 at 3:15 PM EST

WHO calls for countries to better prepare for coronavirus amid cruise ship incidents

World Health Organization officials said countries need to be better prepared to deal with the virus, in the wake of the chaotic way passengers on the MS Westerdam cruise ship were dispersed.

Passengers of the Holland America liner began to disembark Friday in Cambodia to begin their travels home. One of them, an 83-year-old American woman, tested positive on her arrival at an airport in Malaysia, sending public health officials scrambling because they assumed the ship was virus-free.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Tuesday that he had discussed the Westerdam case with Malaysia’s health minister the day before. “These signals show the importance of all countries being ready for the arrival of the virus to treat patients with dignity and compassion, to protect health workers and to prevent onward transmission,” Tedros said.

Experts note that the Westerdam situation demonstrates how travelers without obvious symptoms could slip through screening processes because authorities have been focused on monitoring only those who traveled to China or had close contact with an infected person.

To help countries better prepare, Tedros said the WHO has shipped supplies of personal protective equipment to 21 countries and will spend shipments to another 106 countries in coming weeks. By end of this week, he said 40 countries in Africa and 29 in the Americas will newly have the ability to detect covid-19. Many had previously been sending tests out of country and waiting days to get results.

By William Wan
February 18, 2020 at 2:55 PM EST

How coronavirus is worsening U.S.-China tensions

The U.S.-China relationship was already tense amid ongoing battles over trade and cybersecurity. And then came the coronavirus outbreak. Through quarantines and targeted lockdowns, authorities have so far managed to keep the virus from spreading in the United States. But there are concerns over a new possible wave of infections, and U.S. officials have expressed frustrations with their Chinese counterparts over the levels of information they have shared about the virus.

These new stresses over managing a global public-health emergency sit on top of a deep well of mistrust. In Washington, antipathy toward China remains a rare source of bipartisan consensus on the Hill. Over the past month, U.S. lawmakers have questioned their country’s dependence on China for sourcing pharmaceutical products, publicly decried the World Health Organization’s exclusion of Taiwan from its meetings out of deference to Beijing, and aired concerns about China’s cooperation in reckoning with the spread of the virus.

Last month, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross argued that the outbreak could spell good news for the United States because it may help “accelerate the return of jobs to North America.”

Some China hawks took an even more strident line. In the early stages of the crisis, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) called for a full shutdown of commercial travel between China and the United States. He later repeatedly floated the possibility that the outbreak could be the result of a deliberate Chinese bioweapon, much to the ire of Beijing’s envoy in Washington.

Experts soon poured cold water on Cotton’s speculative claims.

There’s the risk, though, that the ruptures caused by the virus could add to an already growing divide. “The coronavirus may end up being a tipping point in the decoupling process — companies that may have been on the fence about China could start moving their supply chains elsewhere,” wrote Rana Foroohar of the Financial Times.

By Ishaan Tharoor
February 18, 2020 at 1:55 PM EST

Experts are still struggling to understand how fatal the coronavirus is

Just how fatal is the coronavirus? Experts are still struggling — months after the virus emerged — to answer that question. Epidemiologists trying to pin down a fatality rate for covid-19 say they simply lack enough reliable data.

On Monday, for example, China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention published a study with the best and most conclusive statistics. Drawing on the patient records of 44,672 confirmed cases, Chinese researchers deemed the virus to have an overall fatality rate of 2.3 percent.

“The problem is they basically just took the total number of deaths and divided it by number of cases,” said Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “It’s not exactly the ideal way to understand fatality rate because it doesn’t take the element of time into consideration.”

The study didn’t take into account, for example, that the virus has a long incubation period, meaning many patients who were recently diagnosed and may go on to die were not recorded as fatalities. That could lead to an underestimation of the virus’s fatality rate.

At the same time, many experts believe the virus’s symptoms are so mild in some people — especially those who are young — that it is going undetected and undiagnosed. That could lead to an overestimation of the fatality rate.

In a Tuesday news conference, WHO officials talked of other barriers to their round-the-clock efforts to understand the coronavirus’s lethality.

Michael Ryan, WHO’s director for health emergencies, noted that while the Chinese CDC study showed a large drop in fatality rate compared with earlier estimates, there was likely “a huge bias at the beginning,” which overestimated its death rate.

“Remember at the beginning of the outbreak what people were finding were the severe cases. … And now, we are going out looking for less sick people,” Ryan said.

He recalled how something similar happened during the H1N1 pandemic when experts initially declared fatality rates of 10-20 percent before lowering them significantly as weeks passed.

Another wrinkle researchers must consider is how much more lethal the virus has proved to be in the epicenter in Hubei Province — 2.9 percent fatality rate — compared with in other Chinese provinces — 0.4 percent.

The sheer number of cases in Wuhan and Hubei province has put enormous pressure on the local health-care system, and some patients may be dying from insufficient health care and resources. Lessons Chinese doctors have learned in Wuhan are also being applied in other Chinese cities as the virus spreads, enabling them to reduce fatalities.

Those caveats aside, experts say, the Chinese CDC study contained critical information for researchers. It confirmed, for instance, a long-held suspicion by researchers that the virus is much more lethal for older people. The fatality rate for those over 80, for example was 14.8 percent. Meanwhile, the study found only eight deaths total since the outbreak began for the ages 0 to 29.

Those with existing medical conditions were also much more likely to die — with heightened fatality rates ranging from 10.5 percent with heart disease and 7.3 percent with diabetes to 5.6 percent for cancer.

One particularly perplexing study finding was a higher mortality rate among men (2.8 percent) than women (1.7 percent). Researchers, however, cautioned that that finding could be because of completely unrelated reasons — such as higher smoking rates among Chinese men, gender differences in immune response or women being more likely to seek medical help.

“But the biggest looming question is still the fatality rate and risk this virus poses,” said Rivers. “Anytime there’s an outbreak like this, we hold our breath a little bit, because it takes a lot of time and data before we will know exactly what we’re dealing with.”

By William Wan
February 18, 2020 at 1:20 PM EST

Russia to temporarily ban Chinese citizens from entry

Beginning Thursday, Russia will temporarily suspend entry of Chinese citizens due to the coronavirus outbreak, Tass news agency reports.

Russia’s deputy prime minister, Tatyana Golikova, announced the move in a statement to reporters Tuesday. The restrictions will apply to Chinese nationals traveling to Russia for employment, tourism and education, Tass reports.

Russia announced at the end of January that it would be closing its 2,615-mile border with China, one of the world’s longest international borders.

Russia has reported two cases of coronavirus; both Chinese citizens. On Tuesday, the Russian Embassy in Japan announced that a Russian citizen who was onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship had also been infected.

By Adam Taylor
February 18, 2020 at 12:20 PM EST

British couple aboard Diamond Princess say they have contracted the virus

LONDON — A British couple under coronavirus lockdown on the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan said Tuesday that they had contracted the virus during their time in quarantine.

“There is going to be a time of quiet. We have been proved positive and leaving for hospital soon. Blessings all xxx,” wrote David Abel, who has racked up almost 30,000 followers in the last two weeks.

Despite limited connectivity on the ship, David and his wife, Sally, have used Facebook and YouTube to keep friends, family and people around the world updated on life under quarantine. In posts, the pair have won hearts for their honest, informative and at times entertaining dispatches from their time on the ship.

The couple’s videos have generated thousands of views and comments from people asking questions and sending well wishes. Recent photos shared by David show a panoramic view of the bay and gulls flying past their cabin window.

Seventy-four British passengers are thought to be onboard the quarantined vessel, which has been tied up in Yokohama harbor. The British government and Foreign Office have come under fire for their response to the incident, with many critics saying not enough has been done to bring British passengers home.

In a post shared last weekend, Abel told those watching, “It has become far tougher than I ever imagined it could be.”

The couple’s son, Stephen Abel, has openly criticized the British government’s handling of the situation, telling BBC Breakfast that his parents were beginning to get “down.”

“They are not getting any communication from our country, so they are in the dark and feeling very unloved,” he said.

On Tuesday, the Foreign Office reassured people that it was working to bring Britons back home, tweeting, “Given the conditions on board, we are working to organise a flight back to the UK for British nationals on the #DiamondPrincess as soon as possible.”

By Jennifer Hassan
February 18, 2020 at 12:01 PM EST

WHO still struggling to say how contagious the coronavirus is outside China

WHO experts are still struggling to understand how fatal and contagious the disease is outside China due to a lack of data, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news briefing Tuesday.

“We don’t have enough data on cases outside China to make meaningful conclusions,” Tedros said, noting that there have not been sustained human-to-human transmissions outside China except for the situation on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

Amid criticism of how Japanese authorities and others quarantined the cruise ship, on which there was eventually a total of 454 infections among passengers, WHO officials also voiced support for the country’s government.

“It’s very easy in retrospect to make judgments on public health decisions made at a certain point,” said Michael Ryan, a WHO leader on health emergencies. The decision to quarantine “was much more preferable at the time than having people dispersed around the world, but obviously the situation on ground changed, and clearly there’s been more transmission than expected on the ship.”

Ryan, however, noted that WHO and others are eager to study the cruise ship transmission to understand what went wrong so they can apply those lessons to similar efforts in coming days.

WHO officials also expressed support and praise for China’s strict measures in recent days, which have been criticized by some as overly harsh and chaotic.

Chinese officials have described its effort as a “wartime” campaign against the virus. Such measures have included mass roundups of people suspected of being infected, isolation of patients without giving them adequate care and door-to-door surveillance and checks on residents.

“You can argue whether those measures are excessive or whether they’re restrictive on people, but there’s a lot at stake here, an awful lot at stake, in terms of public health and in term of not just the public health of China but people all over the world,” Ryan said.

Finding the balance between civil liberties or human rights and necessary restrictions is sometimes difficult, Ryan said. “Right now, the strategic and tactical approach in China is the right one.”

“We still have a chance of preventing a broader global crisis,” said WHO Director General Tedros. “WHO will continue working night and day with all countries to prepare them.”

By William Wan
February 18, 2020 at 11:34 AM EST

Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore deny entry to MS Westerdam cruise ship passengers

Some passengers from the MS Westerdam cruise ship docked in Cambodia are being shunned on land and in air, following two weeks of being shunned at sea over coronavirus fears.

The cruise liner loitered in water for two weeks without any case of coronavirus after being repeatedly turned away at ports — only to then have one passenger be diagnosed with the virus after disembarking and traveling to Malaysia on Saturday.

News of the infection fed into fears of cruise ships and airports serving as unwitting incubators and transmitters of the virus causing covid-19. Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore announced Tuesday that they would not permit Westerdam passengers to fly via their airports, Bloomberg News reported.

The cruise liner, owned by Holland America Line, canceled an upcoming trip scheduled for Feb. 29 “out of an abundance of caution,” the company announced Sunday. It said it’s coordinating all efforts with the World Health Organization, as well as other public health bodies.

“We are in close coordination with some of the leading health experts from around the world,” Grant Tarling, chief medical officer for Holland America Line, said in a statement Monday. “These experts are working with the appropriate national health authorities to investigate and follow-up with any individuals who may have come in contact with the [infected] guest.”

For two weeks, MS Westerdam traveled the seas looking for a place to dock, after five countries refused it entry because of coronavirus fears. The ordeal ended Friday when Cambodia allowed the boat to land and for guests at last to leave the ship. Cambodia’s prime minister personally welcomed passengers at the port. The ship’s passengers came from 41 countries and territories, with U.S. citizens being the largest group represented, Bloomberg News reported.

Holland America Line has repeatedly said that there were no cases or suspected cases of coronavirus on board.

“On Feb. 10, 2020, all 2,257 passengers and crew were screened for illness including the taking of individual temperatures. No individual at that time was identified with an elevated temperature,” the company said in a statement Monday, adding “During the voyage there was no indication of COVID-19 on the ship.”

Guests who left the ship in Cambodia on Friday were subject to further health screenings by Cambodian authorities, which all passengers passed, and then cleared to start returning home. Holland America reported that none of the ship’s guests had traveled to China in the 14 days before the start of the trip.

Nonetheless, when an 83-year-old American woman who had been on the ship flew to Malaysia on Friday, authorities there tested her and found her positive for the virus, they announced Saturday.

MS Westerdam said that neither she nor her husband, who tested negative for the virus, reported any symptoms while on board.

By Miriam Berger
February 18, 2020 at 11:02 AM EST

Pompeo says it ‘took us too long’ to get medical experts into China

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday that it took the United States “too long to get the medical experts into” China, and he urged Beijing to increase its openness as the epidemic continues to unfold.

“We hope that every country that has information, this includes China, will be completely open and transparent,” Pompeo said during a briefing in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. “It took us too long to get the medical experts into the country. We wish that could have happened more quickly. But we are hopeful that the Chinese government will increase its transparency [and] will continue to share this information.”

The Chinese government is under deep scrutiny of how it has handled the crisis.

While the director general of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and President Trump have both repeatedly praised China’s efforts at containing the virus, critics both inside and outside of China have accused the government of initially covering up the extent of the virus as it began to emerge.

Pompeo also said Tuesday that the United States planned to provide $100 million in support to countries, including China, battling the covid-19 disease.

“We need to make sure that we got that right, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that every place there’s risk, in countries where there isn’t a deep strong health care or public health infrastructure, the United States is providing important assistance,” he said.

One area where this money may go is Africa, where only six labs exist that can test for coronavirus. Africa has, so far, had only one confirmed coronavirus case: in Egypt. The Egyptian Health Ministry has not identified the victim, but has said the person is a “foreigner” and is being treated in isolation. An estimated one million Chinese nationals live on the continent of 1.2 billion people.

By Miriam Berger
February 18, 2020 at 10:30 AM EST

Coronavirus hurting China’s Belt and Road ambitions, experts say

The coronavirus outbreak is China is hindering some aspects of Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road initiative (BRI), a trillion-dollar-plus global infrastructure investment.

Peng Qinghua, secretary general of China’s state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, said in a Tuesday briefing that the outbreak had caused “difficulties” in some overseas projects and that China was working toward gaining “support and understanding” from foreign partners, Reuters reported.

Jonathan Hillman, director of the Reconnecting Asia Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that many BRI projects had already been slowing before the outbreak. “In some cases, the virus opens the door for Chinese officials to blame poor-performing projects on factors outside their control,” Hillman said.

However, given the large number of Chinese workers employed in these overseas projects, a level of disruption is unavoidable, Hillman added. CSIS has estimated that almost 90 percent of BRI projects use Chinese contractors. Even if workers were likely to be allowed to travel soon, they could face additional quarantines.

“By now, the Chinese government is trying to isolate the spreading of the virus to Hubei Province and the province is on lockdown,” Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Stimson Center, said in an email. “That means all BRI projects that Hubei leads or participated in are affected for the time being.”

Wuhan — the capital of Hubei province, a major economic center and the epicenter of the epidemic — is linked to several BRI projects. On Tuesday, Malaysia barred the entry of 13 managerial staff on the $11-billion East Coast Rail Link after they returned to Hubei for the Lunar New Year holiday.

The coronavirus outbreak may expose some of the downsides of similar BRI projects — especially the widespread use of Chinese contractors that undercuts the initiatives, Hillman said.

“What China might worry beyond the temporary disruption is the psychological impact and the social stigma associated with China due to the coronavirus,” Sun said. “Projects can be resumed. Supply chains can be restored. But if countries become concerned about what byproducts those economic ties bring, the impact will be more long lasting.”

By Adam Taylor
February 18, 2020 at 9:30 AM EST

U.N. secretary general echoes concerns that the virus could hit countries with weak health systems

The secretary general of the United Nations said Tuesday that one of his biggest concerns is the possible spread of the coronavirus to countries with “less capacity in their health service.”

If that were to happen, those countries would require much international help and solidarity, said António Guterres in an interview with the Associated Press in Pakistan.

In recent days, Egypt reported its first case of the virus, sparking fears that it could spread across Africa — a continent particularly ill-equipped to handle such epidemics.

The risk of outbreak on the continent is high, world health leaders have cautioned. Africa is home to more than 1.2 billion people, including an estimated 1 million Chinese nationals, who tend to work in business, construction, oil and mining — a testament to Beijing’s increasingly tight relationship with Senegal, Nigeria, Ethiopia and other African countries.

Before the arrival of recent World Health Organization supplies, there were only two labs in Africa that had testing capabilities for the virus, Washington Post reporters wrote earlier this month.

African governments have been rushing to ramp up their preparedness, including construction of isolation wards, but more specialized training is needed to address a new and fast-spreading problem.

In his Tuesday interview, Guterres said, “The risks are enormous and we need to be prepared worldwide for that.”

By William Wan
February 18, 2020 at 8:55 AM EST

Russian citizen diagnosed with coronavirus

MOSCOW — A Russian citizen who was onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship has been diagnosed with coronavirus, the Russian Embassy in Japan said on Tuesday.

“At present, he is at a specialized medical facility in the Aichi Prefecture,” the embassy wrote in a statement posted on its Facebook page.

His wife was also hospitalized. She was previously suspected of having the virus, but did not test positive, the statement continued.

Russia has two other reported cases, but both are Chinese citizens. To prevent the virus from spreading to the country further, Russia has taken major precautionary measures, including the temporary closure of its entire 2,600-mile border with China.

By Isabelle Khurshudyan
February 18, 2020 at 8:35 AM EST

Virus games are going viral as the coronavirus spreads

The popularity of video games centered on the spread of pathogens has surged in recent weeks.

As officials and experts worked to stem the global spread of the coronavirus, gamers have turned their attention to parallel, imaginary struggles.

Foremost among them: Plague Inc., a strategy game that rose to the top of Apple Store charts in China, the United States and elsewhere as coronavirus fears mounted. First released by British-based studio Ndemic Creations in 2012, the game, of which there are a handful of variants, asks players to take the part of a pathogen, helping it evolve to wipe out humanity.

The popularity of such games makes sense amid efforts to cope with the coronavirus and the fears it has sown, researchers and game developers said.

“I can certainly understand the hesitation around this — no one wants to trivialize the very real human suffering that this coronavirus has brought with it,” said Matthew Leacock, the creator of the board game Pandemic. “But the reality is that playing helps us process the world around us, and people may be turning to these games now for that reason.”

By Rick Noack and Stefano Pitrelli
February 18, 2020 at 8:10 AM EST

Coronavirus crisis shrinks China’s international aviation market to size of Portugal’s, says report

As more airlines suspend flights to China and the country’s domestic airlines cut back, there has been a major contraction in what was previously the world’s third-largest international aviation market. According to a new study by the OAG global travel data provider, it’s now smaller than Portugal’s — a country of around 10 million.

This week alone, the capacity on international flights to and from the country dropped by 270,000 seats, with a total reduction in capacity since Jan. 20 of 1.7 million — an almost 80 percent drop. Even more dramatic, though, is a drop in around 10 million seats on internal flights since Jan. 20.

Data from China’s neighbors — which rely heavily on tourism and visitors from China — show similar drops in seats over the past month, with Hong Kong, Taiwan and Vietnam registering decreases of more than 80 percent.

Regional airlines have been hemorrhaging badly over the course of the coronavirus outbreak. On Tuesday Singapore Airlines, a bellwether for the region, said it was cutting back flights to Los Angeles, Sydney and London due to weak demand.

Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways has been particularly hard hit, with most of its flights to mainland China — its main customer — canceled.

The report did not expect much change in international flights to China until at least March, if not later.

“No event that we remember has had such a devastating effect on capacity as coronavirus. In many ways it highlights the importance of the Chinese market to aviation,” the report concluded.

By Paul Schemm
February 18, 2020 at 7:40 AM EST

North Korea to go ahead with major gymnastics show popular with foreign visitors, despite virus concerns

SEOUL — North Korea’s major mass gymnastics show that usually draws foreign visitors is expected to take place as planned this summer, multiple tour operators said Tuesday.

North Korea has so far not confirmed a single case of the virus. To prevent an outbreak, it has cut cross-border transport routes and ordered month-long quarantines for recently arrived foreigners.

But tour operators working in North Korea said Tuesday that the “Mass Games” are still scheduled to take place this summer, citing sources in Pyongyang. A representative for Young Pioneer Tours, Rowan Beard, said he and his partners in Pyongyang are “confident the border will reopen well in time for summer.”

“Currently all foreigners are prevented from entering North Korea due to the Covid-19 virus in China. However, we are expecting the borders to reopen for tourism in spring,” said Beard, the company’s tours manager.

Koryo Tours, another travel company that sends Western tourists to the isolated country, similarly said Tuesday that it has been told by sources in North Korea that “the Mass Games [are] scheduled to take place this year … in August and October.”

The expected continuation of the “Mass Games” — a rare opportunity for foreign tourists to enter the country — hints that Pyongyang is unwilling to restrict international tourism further, as it is an important economic revenue stream for the U.N.-sanctioned regime. Heavily criticized by human rights activists, the games usually feature thousands of children and teenagers performing synchronized moves for Pyongyang elites and tourists.

By Min Joo Kim
February 18, 2020 at 7:00 AM EST

Japan set to start HIV medication trials

Amid a surge of coronavirus cases in Japan over the weekend, a government official said Tuesday that the country would test HIV medication as a potential treatment for coronavirus patients.

The Japanese government has begun making “preparations so that clinical trials using HIV medication on the novel coronavirus can start as soon as possible,” Reuters quoted top spokesman Yoshihide Suga as saying.

The Japanese effort is one of many parallel attempts to develop a treatment or vaccine. HIV medications have been the focus of a number of research projects launched in recent weeks. More than two weeks ago, U.S. pharmaceutical and medical company Johnson & Johnson announced that it has donated hundreds of boxes of an HIV medication to doctors in China for potential trials.

One of the medication’s compounds, the company said in a release at the time, “has previously shown a potential favorable clinical response against severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) associated coronavirus,” according to anecdotal observations.

Tuesday’s Japanese announcement came amid a broader shift in strategy in the country. Whereas Japan had previously focused on quarantining potentially infected individuals and on imposing travel bans, officials in the country now appear to be preparing for a more widespread regional outbreak. As a result, the Japanese government has significantly stepped up its capacity to administer tests and has established call centers to prevent patients from spreading the virus in hospital reception areas.

By Rick Noack
February 18, 2020 at 6:15 AM EST

Thieves in Japan steal 6,000 face masks as cases double

With the search for protective face masks reaching critical stages in many virus-hit parts of Asia, a hospital in Japan on Tuesday reported the theft of 6,000 surgical masks.

Four boxes of the masks disappeared from a storage facility at Kobe’s Japanese Red Cross hospital, according to Agence France-Presse.

As the number of virus cases in Japan has nearly doubled in the past few days to 69 cases, masks and other protective gear have sold out across the country. The assumption is that the thieves will seek to resell the masks at far above their current sale price.

The situation mirrors that of Hong Kong and other cities around the region where shortages have extended to toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

The Japanese government has urged factories to boost their face mask output.

By Paul Schemm
February 18, 2020 at 6:00 AM EST

First domestic helper in Hong Kong infected with coronavirus, raising concerns over new cases

HONG KONG — A domestic helper from the Philippines has been infected with the coronavirus, health officials said Tuesday, bringing the territory’s tally of cases to 61. The patient probably contracted the virus from her employer, officials said.

Hong Kong relies heavily on domestic workers, who comprise about 5 percent of the territory’s population and come from countries including the Philippines and Indonesia. The case marks the first confirmed coronavirus infection of a domestic worker based in the territory.

The Philippines has imposed a ban on its citizens traveling into Hong Kong, which has left thousands of workers and domestic helpers stranded. On Tuesday, it reversed the ban, allowing some 25,000 stranded Filipino workers to return home.

Health officials say that the helper had spent over an hour out with 10 friends, raising the risk of more possible infections. Authorities are contacting those individuals.

By Shibani Mahtani
February 18, 2020 at 5:25 AM EST

French health minister warns of possible coronavirus pandemic

As the number of coronavirus cases outside China continues to climb, French Health Minister Olivier Véran warned Tuesday of a possible coronavirus pandemic. While an epidemic is usually restricted to a particular region, a pandemic can affect countries around the world.

“This is both a working assumption and a credible risk,” Véran said in an interview with France Inter, a public broadcaster. Véran added that authorities were also monitoring developments in Japan, where the number of coronavirus cases jumped from 33 on Thursday to 69 on Tuesday. The significant rise in infections prompted a top Japanese official to acknowledge that the virus has entered a “new phase” of local transmission.

Véran sought Tuesday to calm fears that France would not be sufficiently prepared for a similar scenario, even as some analysts warned that many of Europe’s already stretched health-care systems could be overwhelmed with large clusters of the virus.

By Rick Noack
February 18, 2020 at 4:45 AM EST

HSBC warns that coronavirus, Hong Kong protests may dent its performance this year

BEIJING — The London-based bank HSBC warned that pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and the coronavirus outbreak that began in China pose a threat to its business, as it announced plans to cut 35,000 jobs and annual costs by $4.5 billion in the next three years.

The cuts would mostly take place in Europe and the United States, HSBC said when releasing its annual results Tuesday. But the bank, which was founded in Hong Kong in 1865 and continues to generate much of its income in Asia, is worried about the challenges in the region.

“We continue to monitor the recent coronavirus outbreak, which is causing economic disruption in Hong Kong and mainland China and may impact performance in 2020,” it warned investors in a statement.

HSBC said the coronavirus has caused significant disruption for staff, suppliers and customers, particularly in mainland China and Hong Kong, since the outbreak took off in January. Authorities responded by shuttering transportation and placing millions of residents under lockdown, while businesses remained closed or devoid of customers over the extended Lunar New Year holiday.

“Depending on how the situation develops, there is the potential for any associated economic slowdown to impact our expected credit losses in Hong Kong and mainland China,” the bank said in the statement.

“Longer term, it is also possible that we may see revenue reductions from lower lending and transaction volumes, and further credit losses stemming from disruption to customer supply chains,” it said.

By Anna Fifield
February 18, 2020 at 4:26 AM EST

Japan reports 88 more cases on Diamond Princess, bringing total to 542

TOKYO — Japan’s Health Ministry said it has found another 88 cases of the new coronavirus on the Diamond Princess, bringing to 542 the total number of cases linked to the quarantined cruise ship, public broadcaster NHK reported.

Japan completed tests on everyone aboard the ship on Monday, but the final batch of test results are not expected until Wednesday. So far, results are back for 2,404 passengers and crew, out of the 3,711 on board the ship when it was placed in quarantine on Feb. 5.

Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said earlier Tuesday that people who have tested negative for the virus would begin to leave the ship on Wednesday, at the end of the planned 14-day quarantine period, and that the process would be completed by Friday.

Separately, Japan announced three more cases of coronavirus in the eastern prefecture of Wakayama on Tuesday, bringing to 69 the total number of cases in the country outside the cruise ship.

By Simon Denyer
February 18, 2020 at 4:07 AM EST

South Korean president urges ‘imagination’ to deal with economic impact of virus

SEOUL — South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for “emergency steps” to brace for economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak, urging his cabinet Tuesday to “show imagination in policymaking” and “exceed expectations to address the economic emergency.”

Moon said the coronavirus could have a “bigger and longer-lasting impact” on South Korea’s economy than 2015 outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome, which led Seoul to roll out a rate cut and a supplementary budget.

Moon’s remark at Tuesday’s cabinet meeting comes days after Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki met with central bank chief Lee Ju-yeol to seek solutions for the virus-hit economy.

Following Moon’s urgent call for a solution, investors are speculating that the Bank of Korea could announce a rate cut at next week’s meeting.

On Thursday, Moon said the coronavirus epidemic was “nearing the end,” and he urged people to return to regular activities even as he acknowledged the impact of the virus on the economy.

Moon again told the public Tuesday to “trust the government and follow the health guidelines while resuming normal economic activities.”

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned late Tuesday that the coronavirus outbreak is entering “a new phase,” after three new patients who had not recently traveled overseas were found to have the virus since Sunday.

By Min Joo Kim
February 18, 2020 at 3:40 AM EST

Singapore plans multibillion-dollar relief package to soften virus-linked economic blow

HONG KONG ­— Singapore on Tuesday earmarked $2.8 billion in relief measures to help stabilize the economy and assist workers as it prepares for an economic downturn over the coronavirus outbreak.

The measures were announced as part of the budget for 2020, among the biggest annual budgets in years. It follows moves taken by governments in other hard-hit territories, including Hong Kong, to soften the blow of the virus, which will have potentially devastating impacts on tourism and retail sectors.

The tourism, aviation and retail industries will receive additional support, Singapore’s Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said in his budget speech Tuesday, including programs to allow workers to retrain and obtain new skills in different sectors. Heng, who is also deputy prime minister, said that the government is aiming primarily to help workers stay employed.

Several countries have warned their citizens to stay away from Singapore, which has among the highest number of coronavirus cases outside mainland China. As of Monday, 77 cases were confirmed.

Separately, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Tuesday she would increase the territory’s relief fund to $3.6 billion, from $3.2 billion. This represents a new increase, after she doubled funds set aside to tackle the economic impact of the outbreak last week and announced one-off payments to businesses.

These measures, however, appear to have done little to stem widespread disaffection with the Hong Kong government. A recent poll showed only 7 percent of respondents in Hong Kong were satisfied with the government’s response to the public health crisis.

By Shibani Mahtani
February 18, 2020 at 3:35 AM EST

Stranded Filipinos can now return to work

MANILA — About 25,000 stranded Filipino workers can now get back to work, as Philippine officials eased a ban on travel to China’s special administrative regions.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Brigido Dulay announced on Twitter that overseas workers employed in Hong Kong and Macao could now return there “subject to certain procedural formalities.”

The announcement comes a day after 131 Hong Kong-based Filipino organizations appealed to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to exempt the city from the ban.

Feliza Guy Benitez, former chairwoman of the Filipino Migrant Workers’ Union in Hong Kong, warned Monday that many workers could lose their jobs if they were absent for longer than two weeks. “[We go back] to zero just to process all the application papers, and the government won’t even pay for it,” she said.

The government promised overseas workers around $200 in financial assistance, but some hardly find it enough after two weeks of being unable to sustain themselves.

The Philippines sends more than 2 million workers around the world, raking in $33.5 billion in remittances last year. At least 6 percent of this workforce is based in Hong Kong. The most vulnerable in this sector are those in household services. The city has about 390,000 foreign domestic helpers, a large fraction of them Filipinos.

The overseas workers organization Migrante International said that about 1,000 other Filipino residents, students, and small business proprietors based in Hong Kong were also affected by the ban.

By Regine Cabato
February 18, 2020 at 3:00 AM EST

Number of infected Canadians aboard Diamond Princess rises to 32

Canada confirmed Tuesday that 32 Canadians on the Diamond Princess cruise ship have tested positive for the coronavirus, according to the Toronto Star.

A total of 256 Canadians are on the ship, which has become the second-biggest source of infections after China itself, with 454 cases onboard out of 2,666 passengers and 1,045 crew. The ship has been quarantined for the past two weeks at Japan’s Yokohama port. Those testing positive for the virus have been removed to hospitals.

Canada announced earlier it would evacuate its citizens from the cruise ship, following similar efforts by the United States, which repatriated more than 328 passengers, including 14 who tested positive for the virus.

The Canadian government told the Star that those testing positive would not be evacuated.

By Paul Schemm
February 18, 2020 at 2:52 AM EST

Prominent neurologist dies of coronavirus infection in Wuhan

BEIJING — Liu Zhiming, a respected neurologist who was director of Wuchang Hospital in Wuhan, died at age 51 of coronavirus infection on Tuesday, becoming the eighth fatality among health workers in China in the ongoing outbreak.

According to Wuhan’s municipal health commission, Liu was infected at work and died at 10:54 a.m. at Tongji Hospital despite a “full-effort rescue.”

“Since the epidemic broke out, Comrade Liu Zhiming has thrown aside his personal safety and led the staff at Wuchang Hospital to fight the outbreak from the front line,” the commission said. It added that Liu had made “significant contribution” to the prevention and control of the novel coronavirus pneumonia.

After graduating from Wuhan University Medical School in 1991, Liu emerged as a leading expert on neurosurgery, especially brain tumor, craniocerebral trauma, intraspinal canal diseases and cerebrovascular diseases.

Under Liu, Wuchang Hospital grew into a comprehensive institution of nearly 1,000 people and was recognized as a Triple-A hospital, the highest standard in China, in 2014. It was also one of the designated hospitals for the quarantine and treatment of coronavirus patients

The National Health Commission said that more than 1,700 doctors and nurses had been infected as of Feb. 14, although the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention put the number much higher, at more than 3,000 medical workers.

Another case that has tugged at Chinese heartstrings this week involves Liu Fan, who was a nurse at Wuchang Hospital’s Liyuan Street Community Health Center.

Liu, who was 59, stopped working four years ago at the designated retirement age of 55 in 2016 but came back to work to help fight the virus.

She died on Friday after being infected. A WeChat user nicknamed “Tiantian” posted on the messaging app that Liu Fan was still working on Jan. 26 and without proper equipment.

“At the time [she] did not have a protective suit; it’s basically like she was ‘streaking.’ As a result, her whole family was infected,” read the post, which was soon deleted by China's censors.

Liu Fan’s parents and younger brother have been infected with the novel coronavirus pneumonia, the Beijing News reported this week, and her husband is being quarantined at home as a precaution.

Hospital staff said Liu Fan was an easygoing and extroverted person who was a conscientious and hard-working nurse.

“We are also deeply saddened by the loss of such a good nurse,” Wuchang Hospital said in a statement posted on the Weibo microblogging site. “In this battle, the virus was brutal, and we express our deep condolences over comrade Liu Fan’s tragic death.”

By Lyric Li and Liu Yang
February 18, 2020 at 2:23 AM EST

Chinese hospital under fire for shaving heads of female medical volunteers as a symbol of ‘sacrifice’

BEIJING — Social media users in China have slammed a hospital as being “insensitive” and “degrading” to women for encouraging or even forcing female doctors and nurses to shave their heads in a gesture of sacrifice.

On Saturday, the government-run Gansu Daily posted a minute-long video clip on the Weibo microblogging site, showing 15 women doctors and nurses having their heads shaved bald by their male colleagues at Gansu Provincial Maternity and Childcare Hospital. These medical workers were to be sent to Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, that afternoon after a farewell ceremony where they were meant to show off their new looks.

As the camera panned, some of the women were shown weeping during the ordeal, wiping their tears when putting on their surgical cap and seemingly pained to look at their long ponytails that had just been cut off.

“With hair cut short, they are ready to go on the expedition! They are pretty for traveling against the flow [to somewhere dangerous],” the post read, trying to demonstrate that the women were willing to make sacrifices to ensure higher efficiency at work.

A number of comments questioned the necessity of the head-shaving and asked if the women were forced.

“Okay, suppose they wanted to save the trouble and get rid of long hair out of their free will, they could have cut it really short, not opted for clean-shaven,” one comment read.

“What’s the rush to cut people’s hair when you haven’t even got other supplies ready for them? Please at least show some respect if you are sending them to the front line,” another posted.

It is not the first time that hospitals have required front-line volunteers to cut their hair or shave their heads for the sake of “efficiency.”

Earlier on the same day, the Yellow River Sanmenxia Hospital in Henan province also shaved the long hair of nurses before sending them to Wuhan.

“I don’t want to emphasize the stereotype that all women care about their appearance, but the love for beauty is a common pursuit for a lot of people,” read a blog post Tuesday titled, “Stop using women’s bodies as your propaganda tool,” which has been shared tens of thousands of times on WeChat.

“We cherish our hair, whether leaving it long or cutting it short, dyeing into a different color or having a perm. We love it when we look good, and more importantly, it is completely up to our own choice,” the post said.

“Don’t try to use the body of women to make cheap tear-jerkers: It’s neither what they need nor what we want to see. . . . What we need to see is that people are being given the dignity they deserve.”

By Lyric Li
February 18, 2020 at 2:06 AM EST

Hong Kong retailers go on strike, seeking rent reductions

HONG KONG — Fifty Hong Kong retailers closed their outlets Tuesday in an effort to pressure landlords into offering rental cuts, with the compounded impact of anti-government protests and the coronavirus outbreak taking a massive toll on the retail, food and beverage industries.

The retailers, according to the South China Morning Post, include French sportswear brand Lacoste and American outdoor brand Timberland. All in all, about 200 shops operated by those 50 retailers have declared a “no business” day across 14 shopping centers in Hong Kong, the paper reported. Some will be closed for 24 hours, while others have announced closures without specifying a time limit.

Ashley Micklewright, president and chief executive at Bluebell Group, which distributes brands such as Celine, Marc Jacobs and Victoria’s Secret, said the last seven months of losses have become “unbearable,” according to the paper. An employee from the group told The Washington Post that there are outlets with no recorded sales on some days.

“The impact on the business and traffic is far worse than anything we have ever experienced,” Micklewright was quoted as saying.

Hong Kong, which has no duty on luxury goods, has long relied on travelers from mainland China to boost sales. Arrivals dipped during protests last year, which at times turned violent, but have fallen even more steeply amid the coronavirus outbreak. Retailers want landlords to offer rental relief. Hong Kong is one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world.

By Shibani Mahtani
February 18, 2020 at 1:37 AM EST

Renowned Chinese expert says coronavirus infections may not fall even after peaking

BEIJING — Zhong Nanshan, the Chinese pulmonologist who is heading a team of experts on managing the novel coronavirus outbreak, has predicted that the number of infections will plateau after hitting a peak in mid- to late-February as migrant workers return to the cities.

Considering factors including human migration as well as China’s compulsory quarantine measures, Zhong’s research team had previously estimated that the total number of infections would reach a peak later this month.

However, he warned that a decrease might not ensue immediately after that.

“We are not clear if we have seen that peak yet, and we need to wait and observe a few more days,” Zhong said in Guangzhou on Monday afternoon during a remote conference with a team of intensive care doctors in Wuhan.

“A peak number doesn’t equal the ‘turning point’ … and new peaks could probably appear with the returning of migrant workers.”

Zhong, who has been widely seen as a heroic figure for his contribution to controlling the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in 2002-2003, remains concerned about the high death rate and new coronavirus infections in Wuhan.

“The biggest problem right now is that human-to-human transmission in Wuhan has not been fully stopped and is still on the rise despite all the efforts we have made,” he said, adding that his team has been developing an immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibody testing kit for diagnosis, which would have a higher accuracy rate than the nucleic acid tests in use now.

Zhong said that the high fatality rate in Wuhan is due to cross infections and a failure to treat mild cases in the early stage.

However, he said that the situation is going to “look up” with stricter quarantine measures in Wuhan and the implementation of early prevention, early detection and early quarantine in other areas.

By Lyric Li
February 18, 2020 at 1:19 AM EST

South Korea sends plane to evacuate citizens from the Diamond Princess

SEOUL — South Korea is sending a presidential jet on Tuesday to evacuate its citizens onboard the Diamond Princess cruise liner docked in Japan, a Seoul government official said.

Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said Seoul will fly out passengers on the quarantined ship “because health and lives of our people is the primary concern amid the rising number of coronavirus infections on the Diamond Princess.”

Kim said at a briefing on Tuesday that four South Korean citizens and the Japanese spouse of one of them will fly back to Seoul early Wednesday.

The four out of 14 South Koreans in the quarantined cruise ship expressed intentions to return to South Korea, Kim said. He added none of the 14 has symptoms related to the coronavirus.

The five evacuees will undergo a 14-day quarantine in South Korea.

South Korea has previously sent three charter planes to Wuhan to evacuate its citizens and their Chinese family members.

The country's health authorities confirmed a new case of coronavirus infection on Tuesday, bringing the national tally to 31.

By Min Joo Kim
February 18, 2020 at 1:04 AM EST

Diamond Princess quarantine period to end Wednesday

TOKYO — The 14-day quarantine period for all passengers remaining on the Diamond Princess will end as scheduled on Wednesday, Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said Tuesday.

The remaining passengers will be notified on Wednesday of their latest coronavirus test results, and those who test negative will be free to disembark from the cruise ship, which is moored off the Japanese port of Yokohama. They will come off the ship in the order that they are tested, so it might take until Friday for everyone to leave.

“Everyone feels they want to go home soon. We would like to prepare for that and ensure that they will return home smoothly,” Kato told reporters in Tokyo.

Asked if the decision to keep the passengers on board was appropriate, Kato did not give a direct answer. “To be accurate, we are not making them stay on board, but are conducting a quarantine. They were asking to enter into Japan, and we have been taking necessary measures. That is all,” Kato said, according to NHK, the public broadcaster.

Separately, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said he thought it was appropriate for Japan to quarantine the passengers on board the ship, even as infections skyrocketed in the confined space.

He cited the words of gratitude expressed by the U.S. government and a number of U.S. passengers who decided to stay despite an opportunity for an early departure.

As of Monday, a total of 454 passengers and crew members have tested positive for the virus, and most of them have disembarked.

By Akiko Kashiwagi
February 18, 2020 at 12:15 AM EST

Singapore Airlines cuts flights, citing weak demand, as troubles mount for Asian carriers

Singapore Airlines, the city-state’s flagship carrier, said Tuesday it would temporarily cut back on flights, including to Los Angeles, Sydney and London, citing weak demand for travel due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The airline’s performance is a bellwether for Asia’s aviation industry, which is already taking a severe hit as the deadly outbreak and the travel and quarantine restrictions imposed by countries in response deter would-be travelers. In China, a major source of tourism arrivals, millions of people remain under lockdown as the death toll continues to climb.

Flights affected were scheduled between March and May, and span a range of cities and continents: Paris, Frankfurt, Germany, Copenhagen, Seoul, Tokyo, Sydney and Mumbai, to name a few. Singapore Airlines had already cut back on flights to mainland China and semiautonomous Hong Kong, Singapore’s rival for the title of Asia’s financial capital.

Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific has eliminated most of its flights to mainland China, and reduced overall capacity by about 40 percent. These flight cuts, Cathay said, are likely to drag on into April. The airline’s chief customer and commercial officer, Ronald Lam, described this year’s Lunar New Year holiday period as the “most challenging” period the airline has experienced, and says the carrier is seeing “continued cancellations of bookings.”

By Shibani Mahtani
February 18, 2020 at 12:01 AM EST

Filipinos among crew of Diamond Princess test positive for virus

MANILA — A total of 35 Filipino crew members on the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday.

Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Brigido Dulay told CNN Philippines that crew members will have to undergo a separate period of isolation after passengers disembark on Wednesday.

“The Filipino crew are the most exposed because they have to move around the ship. They have to service the passengers,” said Dulay. “What was told to us was [the crew] will now undergo a separate quarantine, so that’s another 14 days.”

It is unclear how this development will affect Philippine government plans to repatriate more than 500 Filipino crew on board.

Other crew members told The Washington Post about dire conditions on the ship, as they were not segregated and forced to continue working.

Victoria Lavado, whose father is on board, said on Monday she worried for him as she was concerned that infected crew members could “still mix” with others on board.

“It took a long time before they received safety masks and they are still forced to work as if it is business as usual,” Lavado said, according to a statement by Migrante International, an organization that advocates for the welfare of overseas Filipino workers. “We really want the Duterte government to work on medical repatriation for my father and for the other Filipino seafarers.”

By Regine Cabato