Authorities worldwide warned about the spread of the coronavirus beyond China on Thursday as Japan reported the first two deaths from the Diamond Princess cruise liner, South Korea reported its first fatality, and new cases in Iran sparked fears about many new cases appearing in the Middle East.

A Japanese man and woman, both said to be in their 80s, were among more than 600 passengers who contracted the disease while on board the Diamond Princess. They left the ship last week and were hospitalized, but they died Thursday, Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported. A day earlier, an infectious disease specialist slammed officials for failing to observe proper quarantine practices on the vessel.

In South Korea, cases soared by nearly two-thirds, mostly in the southern part of the peninsula, national authorities said. The mayor of Daegu, the city where 10 South Koreans contracted the disease from a church service, asked residents to stay indoors.

Many international experts say the disease will continue to spread globally even as the Chinese government seeks to present the image that it is coming to grips with the epidemic. New cases inside China dropped again Wednesday, officials reported Thursday, after national authorities changed for the second time in a week the criteria for how cases are diagnosed and counted. Here’s what we know:

China tallied a total of 889 new infections and 118 new deaths through the end of Thursday. There is a cumulative total of 75,465 infections and 2,236 deaths, most in central Hubei province. Wild swings in numbers in recent days have raised suspicions over counting methods.

● South Korea reported its first coronavirus death, and the mayor of the South Korean city of Daegu urged its 2.5 million people Thursday to stay indoors, as cases of the new virus soared. Cases in the country rose to 156 by Friday morning, making it the country with the highest number of virus cases outside China.

● In Ukraine, police clashed with protesters angered by plans to allow more than 70 people evacuated from China’s Hubei province to enter the country.

● Iran reported three new cases Thursday, a day after two people died of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, in the holy city of Qom. Iraq’s Health Ministry called for travel restrictions on Iran.

● Meanwhile, researchers still do not know for sure how contagious the virus is, a crucial detail to predict how big the epidemic could get. The virus has spread to more than two dozen countries outside China.

February 20, 2020 at 8:50 PM EST

Confirmed coronavirus cases in China exceed 75,000

In its latest nationwide tally, China’s National Health Commission on Friday morning reported 889 new coronavirus infections and 118 new deaths from the virus through the end of Thursday.

There are now a cumulative total of 75,465 infections and 2,236 deaths, mostly in the central Hubei province.

The latest numbers show a significant increase in new infections from Wednesday, when the NHC reported 394 new cases. National authorities recently changed the criteria for classifying cases, leading to wild swings in numbers in recent days.

By Michael Brice-Saddler and Gerry Shih
February 20, 2020 at 8:25 PM EST

South Korea becomes country with most coronavirus cases outside China

SEOUL — South Korea reported on Friday that 52 more people contracted the coronavirus, making it the country with the highest number of virus cases outside China.

South Korea’s national tally of virus infection jumped by half to 156 from 104 the previous day, according to Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

About two-thirds of the country’s cases have been reported in the southern city of Daegu and surrounding North Gyeongsang Province.

Out of the 52 latest cases, 33 are linked to an existing cluster of infections centered on a church in Daegu, the KCDC said.

At a hospital in neighboring Cheongdo County, North Gyeongsang, 16 infection cases were reported in total, including the country’s first death from the virus.

South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said early Friday that the country is facing a coronavirus “emergency.” Chung designated Daegu city and Cheongdo County as “special care zones” to mobilize all available resources, including military medics, and set up quarantine facilities.

By Min Joo Kim
February 20, 2020 at 8:20 PM EST

Airline association warns of largest loss in global passengers in 11 years

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) warned Thursday that it expects the drop in flights due to the coronavirus outbreak to cause the first global decline in airline passengers in 11 years.

Overall, the IATA predicted a 4.7 percent reduction in global traffic, which would cancel out its previous growth estimates for 2020. Such a steep decline would be the first overall loss for the airline industry since the 2008-09 financial crisis.

It’s “challenging times for the global air transport industry,” the IATA’s Director General and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said in a statement.

The IATA’s forecast predicts a potentially 13 percent decline in demand for flights in the Asia-Pacific region in 2020 based on the already thousands of flights canceled as the epidemic has spread. This could translate into a nearly $28 billion loss in revenue for airline companies in the region, including a nearly $13 billion decline just in China’s domestic market.

“The estimated impact of the COVID-19 outbreak also assumes that the center of the public health emergency remains in China,” IATA said in a statement. “If it spreads more widely to Asia-Pacific markets then impacts on airlines from other regions would be larger.”

By Miriam Berger
February 20, 2020 at 7:45 PM EST

11 people test positive for coronavirus at University of Nebraska Medical Center

Eleven out of 13 people being held at the University of Nebraska Medical Center tested positive for the coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed Thursday. All 13 people were former passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise ship who were evacuated to the United States on Monday.

In a statement, Nebraska Medicine said 10 of the patients were being held in its national quarantine unit, while three were in the Nebraska biocontainment unit.

“Most of them aren’t showing symptoms of the disease; however, several others are exhibiting minor symptoms,” the statement read.

By Michael Brice-Saddler
February 20, 2020 at 7:15 PM EST

Government-chartered plane evacuates Canadians from Diamond Princess

TORONTO — A government-chartered plane evacuating Canadian citizens and permanent residents aboard the Diamond Princess cruise liner has left Tokyo, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said Thursday.

There were 256 Canadians on the ship, according to Global Affairs Canada, including 47 who tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Passengers were screened before boarding the airplane, and only those not exhibiting symptoms of the deadly virus were allowed to fly home.

The country’s foreign ministry said that if space allowed, it would allow non-Canadian immediate family members of Canadian citizens to also board the flight in order to keep families together.

It is unclear how many passengers were allowed to board.

The plane will take the evacuees to a military base in Trenton, Ontario, where nearly 300 Canadians who were evacuated from the virus-stricken Chinese city of Wuhan are being quarantined. After being screened there, the cruise ship passengers will be taken to the Nav Canada training institute in Cornwall, Ontario, where they will also be quarantined for 14 days.

Patty Hajdu, Canada’s health minister, said on Thursday that none of the evacuees quarantined in Trenton have tested positive for the virus. The first group of evacuees will finish its quarantine on Friday.

Ottawa has faced criticism for being too slow to evacuate its citizens from the luxury cruise ship, which has been quarantined at a Yokohama dock since Feb. 5.

By Amanda Coletta
February 20, 2020 at 7:00 PM EST

Two Australian passengers from Diamond Princess cruise ship test positive for coronavirus

Two passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship who arrived home to Australia on Thursday morning in a repatriation flight have tested positive for coronavirus, according to the Austrailian Broadcasting Corp.

The news comes after a chartered flight carrying 164 people from the ship, including Australian citizens and permanent residents from Japan, arrived at a quarantine facility in Darwin.

In a statement, the Austrailian government’s chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, said six people who were identified as having minor respiratory symptoms were separated at the airport. Two of them later tested positive for coronavirus.

The passengers on the repatriation flight had been quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship and were required to pass a health check before boarding the Boeing 747 at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. Murphy said the two infected passengers “remain well and are being housed in separate isolation.”

“Given there was continued evidence of spread of infection on board the Diamond Princess in recent days, the development of some positive cases after return to Australia is not unexpected, despite all of the health screening before departure,” Murphy wrote.

By Michael Brice-Saddler
February 20, 2020 at 6:20 PM EST

Kuwait Airways suspends all flights to Iran, citing coronavirus fears

Kuwait Airlines announced Thursday that it has indefinitely suspended all flights to Iran after three new cases of coronavirus were reported in the country Thursday.

In a statement, the airline said it had received instructions from the Kuwaiti Health Ministry and civil aviation authority.

On Wednesday, two Iranians infected with the virus died in the city of Qom, a holy city and pilgrimage site for Shiite Muslims. Iraq’s Health Ministry prompted the government to stop issuing tourist visas to Iranian nationals, citing the new coronavirus cases across the border.

By Michael Brice-Saddler
February 20, 2020 at 5:23 PM EST

U.S. citizens should ‘reconsider’ cruise ship travel to East Asia, State Dept. says

The U.S. Department of State urged U.S. citizens Thursday to reconsider travel via cruise ship to or within the East Asia and the Asia-Pacific region.

The department cited countries that have implemented strict screening procedures amid the spread of the novel coronavirus, adding that those traveling by ship “may be impacted by travel restrictions affecting their itineraries or ability to disembark, or may be subject to quarantine procedures implemented by the local authorities.”

“While the U.S. government has successfully evacuated hundreds of our citizens in the previous weeks, repatriation flights should not be relied upon as an option for U.S. citizens under the potential risk of quarantine by local authorities,” the department wrote. “Passengers who plan to travel by cruise ship should contact their cruise line companies directly for further information on the current rules and restrictions, and continue to monitor the Travel.state.gov website for updated information.”

By Michael Brice-Saddler
February 20, 2020 at 4:45 PM EST

FBI spends $40,000 on health supplies to mitigate possible coronavirus spread in U.S.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is trying to avert the spread of coronavirus in the United States by purchasing $40,000 worth of hand sanitizer and face masks, according to CNBC.

An acquisition document acquired by the news station showed that the intelligence agency ordered its “pandemic preparedness” hand sanitizer and masks from two contractors in case coronavirus spreads across the United States.

The face masks from manufacturing conglomerate 3M and hand sanitizer from medical device company PDI Healthcare will be delivered to the FBI on Friday, according to CNBC. The items were ordered directly from the companies due to “the urgency” of the request, according to CNBC’s review of the document.

The FBI awarded the no-bid contract to PDI because its products destroy “54 different microorganisms within [one] minute so this disinfectant has both speed and power,” according to CNBC’s review of the order.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed 15 cases of coronavirus in the United States last Thursday. The Trump administration declared the virus a public health emergency late January.

By Lateshia Beachum
February 20, 2020 at 3:55 PM EST

Coronavirus-infected Americans flown home despite CDC’s objections

In the wee hours of a rainy Monday, more than a dozen buses sat on the tarmac at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. Inside, 328 weary Americans wearing surgical masks and gloves waited anxiously to fly home after weeks in quarantine aboard the Diamond Princess, the luxury liner where the coronavirus had exploded into a ship-wide epidemic.

But as the buses idled, U.S. officials wrestled with troubling news. New test results showed that 14 passengers were infected with the virus. The State Department had promised that no one with the infection would be allowed to board the planes.

A decision had to be made. Let them all fly? Or leave them behind in Japanese hospitals?

In Washington, where it was still Sunday afternoon, a fierce debate broke out: The State Department and a top Trump administration health official wanted to forge ahead. The infected passengers had no symptoms and could be segregated on the plane in a plastic-lined enclosure. But officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention disagreed, contending they could still spread the virus. The CDC believed the 14 should not be flown back with uninfected passengers.

“It was like the worst nightmare,” said a senior U.S. official involved in the decision, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. “Quite frankly, the alternative could have been pulling grandma out in the pouring rain, and that would have been bad, too.”

The State Department won the argument. But unhappy CDC officials demanded to be left out of the news release that explained that infected people were being flown back to the United States — a move that would nearly double the number of known coronavirus cases in this country.

The tarmac decision was a pivotal moment for U.S. officials improvising their response to a crisis with few precedents and extraordinarily high stakes.

Read more here.

By Lena H. Sun, Lenny Bernstein, Shibani Mahtani and Joel Achenbach
February 20, 2020 at 3:10 PM EST

Iran urges restricting religious gatherings in holy city after spike in coronavirus cases

Iranian health officials urged the holy city of Qom to suspend religious gatherings Thursday after Iran reported a sudden spike to five coronavirus cases, the semiofficial news agency ISNA reported.

Two people on Thursday tested positive for the virus in Qom, south of the capital Tehran, and another in Arak, a city about 100 miles southwest of Qom, Iran’s health ministry spokesman reported. Two other Iranians died of the coronavirus in Qom on Wednesday, just hours after authorities first reported the infections.

Kianush Jahanpur, the health ministry spokesman, told ISNA that the infected patient in Arak was a doctor from Qom.

Qom is a holy seminary and pilgrimage site for Shiite Muslims, who are the majority in Iran. Worshipers from all over gather in the revered city to pray and study.

Jahanpur told ISNA that the health ministry recommended restricting traffic to Qom’s major shrines, mosques and other pilgrimage places, as well as temporarily canceling seminars, conferences, camps and touristic trips in the city.

Iranian authorities reported that they still don’t know how the patients contracted the virus. But in other places, such as Hong Kong and South Korea, religious sites such as churches have been cited as clusters for infections.

Last week, the Catholic Church in Hong Kong announced it was suspending Mass as a precaution to prevent the virus’ spread.

By Miriam Berger
February 20, 2020 at 2:40 PM EST

The coronavirus outbreak in China has caused a boom in the U.S. preparedness industry

Steve Conlee always had a habit of collecting reserves of food, water and other essentials at his home in case of the unknown. Now his Salt Lake City-based preparedness company, Emergency Essentials, is riding a rise in people across the United States looking to buy stashes of items such as water filters, face masks and stores of food amid fears over how far the coronavirus outbreak could go.

“The coronavirus has definitely sparked a huge demand across the board for companies like ours,” Conlee said. “We suspect this will be a longer-term demand spike, as opposed to something like hurricanes,” when demand rises for just a few weeks.

The preparedness industry, which targets a contingent often called “preppers,” markets the goods and advice needed to survive anything from a tornado to a quarantine to a full-blown apocalypse.

There are different subsets within the community, said Conlee. He’s part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, colloquially called Mormons, among whom a culture of emergency preparedness is common. But he said 90 percent of his customers now come from across the United States and range from anyone fearful of natural disasters to more apocalyptic doomsayers to Silicon Valley tech circles.

At the end of January, Conlee started seeing a rise in searches around coronavirus and an uptick in the scale and scope of purchases. Within days, the company’s supply of N95 masks ran out.

Jon Stoke, deputy editor of the Prepared, a website dedicated to the preparedness industry, said he’s also seen a surge in traffic to his site since late January. In early February, he put up a page specifically dedicated to tips for preparing for and surviving an outbreak.

There are only 15 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, and the vast majority of infections remain centered in certain parts of China. The World Health Organization has warned that shortages of protective gear like face masks is due to people stocking up, and has put health-care workers and those at the center of the outbreak at greater risk.

Despite the fact that the outbreak remains many miles and time zones away, Stoke, who lives in Texas, said he didn’t think those stocking up on emergency essentials were driven by panic.

“I wouldn’t say there’s panic yet,” he said. “But the kind of paradox we deal with in preparedness is that it’s better to be early and wrong.”

By Miriam Berger
February 20, 2020 at 2:00 PM EST

Washington state hospital prepares to treat four coronavirus patients

A Washington state hospital will treat four patients who have tested positive for coronavirus, according to a joint statement Wednesday from hospital and public health officials.

Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Wash., will care for the patients at the request of the Department of Health and Human Services, according to the news release.

The health center is one of only 10 hospitals in the country with airborne infection isolation rooms. At a Thursday afternoon news conference, Christa Arguinchona, manager of special pathogens with Providence Health and Human Services, said the DHHS on Wednesday night had clarified that the health center would receive four patients instead of five.

The exact process for transferring patients is still being determined, though partner agencies have practiced for this kind of scenario, according to Bob Lutz, a Spokane County health officer with the Spokane Regional Health District.

“We are coordinating with local partners to safely transport these patients to Sacred Heart,” Lutz said in the statement. “This is all being done following our jointly developed infectious disease protocols that we train and prepare for. The risk to the public from this novel coronavirus remains low.”

Lutz reiterated that point while addressing reporters Thursday, adding that the risk to the general community is “zero.”

Health officials at the news conference declined to provide specific details about the incoming patients.

“There is no risk to the general public,” Lutz stated. “I reiterate that as much as I can.”

The Washington State Department of Health listed 779 people under health supervision. That number includes people who are at risk of having been exposed to the virus, close contacts of confirmed cases, and people who have returned from China in the past two weeks.

KREM, a Spokane news channel, reported an increase of 87 people since the beginning of the week.

By Lateshia Beachum and Michael Brice-Saddler
February 20, 2020 at 1:30 PM EST

‘No time for complacency,’ WHO warns

The World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday that China’s reduction in new reported coronavirus infections was “encouraging,” but warned against complacency.

“This is the time to attack the virus while it is manageable,” the WHO’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said at a daily news briefing in Geneva. “You will get sick of me saying that the window of opportunity remains open for us to contain this covid-19 outbreak.”

In his remarks, Tedros has sought to both praise China’s response to the outbreak and push the international community to react with urgent measures of its own, branding the virus “public enemy No. 1.”

He warned Thursday that while covid-19 cases have remained limited outside of China, countries still needed to act, as “that may not stay the same for very long.”

A WHO-led mission of international experts, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is in China reviewing available research and data on the virus and China’s responses to it. On Thursday, Tedros provided further details on the team’s makeup, listing Singapore, Nigeria, South Korea, the United Kingdom, Germany and Russia as some of the other participants.

Last week, Tedros declined to provide details on who would be part of the mission after Larry Kudlow, the director of the U.S. National Economic Council, said China was preventing U.S. experts from entering, which WHO and China denied.

Tedros also announced Thursday that WHO would begin coordinating meetings weekly with diplomatic missions in Geneva about coronavirus. In addition, he said he expected preliminary results in three weeks from WHO’s initial clinical trials of two anti-viral drugs that scientists hope could combat covid-19.

By Miriam Berger