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China's death toll climbs to 562; Hong Kong implements travel restrictions

Also Wednesday, Princess Cruises said it had quarantined a ship with 3,700 passengers and crew now anchored at Yokohama, Japan

By
Darryl Coote & Don Jacobson
Hong Kong imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine on all arrivals from mainland China after striking hospital workers demanded that border crossings be closed to help contain the novel coronavirus outbreak. Photo by Jerome Favre/EPA-EFE
Hong Kong imposed a mandatory 14-day quarantine on all arrivals from mainland China after striking hospital workers demanded that border crossings be closed to help contain the novel coronavirus outbreak. Photo by Jerome Favre/EPA-EFE

Feb. 5 (UPI) -- Chinese health officials said Thursday morning the death toll for mainland China from a mysterious new virus surged to 562 in the past 24 hours after 70 people in the outbreak's epicenter of Hubei province died of the disease.

The Health Commission of Hubei Province in a statement revealed 52 deaths occurred in the province's capital of Wuhan where a seafood and animal market is believed to be ground zero of the coronavirus called 2019-nCov.

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The number is expected to increase as China's National Health Commission has yet to release its numbers over the past 24 hours.

Globally, the death toll stands at 564 with one death each in Hong Kong and the Philippines.

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The number of confirmed cases of the disease also jump 2,987 in the province over Wednesday, raising its total to 19,665, of which 14,314 were still in hospital including 2,328 cases labeled severe and 756 considered critical.

The new figures increase the number of confirmed cases for China to 27,378.

Outside of China, there are at least 191 confirmed cases of the disease in 24 countries, according to the World Health Organization.

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On Wednesday, Hong Kong announced that all travelers from mainland China must remain in quarantine for 14 days.

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Facing increasing pressure to institute a full border closure, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the mandatory quarantine would apply to all travelers from China, regardless of their nationality. It is set to take effect Saturday.

The city's medics have been on strike since Monday to pressure Lam into closing all of Kong Kong's crossing points to the mainland, but she has resisted, keeping a handful of land crossings, the airport and Kai Tak cruise terminal open.

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Princess Cruises instituted a quarantine of its own Wednesday, locking down 3,700 passengers and crew aboard a ship anchored at Yokohama, Japan, after 10 people aboard tested positive for the coronavirus.

The passengers will be forced to stay aboard the Diamond Princess vessel for two weeks, as required by the Japanese Ministry of Health.

"These 10 persons, who have been notified, will be taken ashore by Japanese Coast Guard watercraft and transported to local hospitals for care by shore-side Japanese medical professionals," the company said.

Those quarantined aboard will receive complimentary Internet and phone service during the quarantine as the ship periodically goes out to sea to "perform normal marine operations." Food, provisions and other supplies will be brought on board from Yokohama.

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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 12 cases of the virus in the United States, with over 200 cases under investigation.

Meanwhile, two flights evacuating hundreds of U.S. citizens from Wuhan landed on Wednesday.

The U.S. Northern Command said in a statement the flights, chartered by the State Department, were traveling with 350 passengers to California military bases.

Both of the flights landed in Travis Air Force Base in Solano County, where one of the planes refueled before departing for its final destination, the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego, the officials said.

Prior to the landing, the Department of Defense announced that it was prepared to receive the two planes and that the passengers were to be subjected to a CDC-ordered 14-day quarantine at the two bases, where the Department of Defense said it will "work closely with our interagency partners and continue to provide support to the situation as requested. "

"We do not believe these people pose a threat to the communities where they are being housed," said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, in a press briefing Wednesday.

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The flights come a week after the U.S. government flew 195 citizens from Wuhan to the March Air Reserve Base in Riverside County, Calif.

Following the initial evacuation flight, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters while in Uzbekistan that they were working on bringing more U.S. citizens home from Wuhan, which has been under lockdown for several weeks by the Chinese government in an attempt to stem the outbreak.

News of the departing flights comes amid strained relations between the United States and China. China has criticized Washington's response to the outbreak, accusing it of fanning fears of the disease by increasing its travel advisory on China while not living up to its offers of assistance.

"The U.S. has said many times that it wants to help China," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Tuesday. "We would like to see early arrival of such help."

The U.S. State Department told American citizens still in Wuhan that they may be arranging more evacuation flights on Thursday.

"Chinese health authorities will be screening travelers at the airport and may deny boarding to anyone who may be of health concern," the U.S. Embassy in China said. "They may also deny boarding to the passenger's family members or involuntarily hospitalize anyone of health concern."

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On Tuesday, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense Jonathan Rath Hoffman told reporters that Defense Secretary Mark Esper had requested assistance from the Department of Health and Human Services for assistance housing up to 1,000 people in quarantine if needed at the March Air Reserve Base.

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