More than 300 American cruise ship passengers, including 14 who tested positive for coronavirus, were being quarantined at military bases in California and Texas on Monday after arriving from Japan on charter flights overnight.
One plane carrying cruise passengers touched down at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California just before midnight Sunday, while another arrived at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas early Monday. The passengers will remain at the bases for two weeks.
Japan's Defense Minister Taro Kono tweeted earlier that Japanese troops helped transport 340 U.S. passengers on 14 buses from Yokohama port to Tokyo's Haneda airport. About 380 Americans were on the cruise ship.
The U.S. said it arranged for the evacuation because people on the Diamond Princess were at a high risk of exposure to the new virus that's been spreading in Asia. For the departing Americans, the evacuation cuts short a 14-day quarantine that began aboard the cruise ship Feb. 5.
The State Department announced later that 14 of the evacuees received confirmation they had the virus but were allowed to board the flight because they had no symptoms. They were being kept isolated from other passengers on the flight, the U.S. State and Health and Human Services said in a joint statement.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, said Sunday that an infected person who shows minimal symptoms could still pass the virus to someone else.
It's unclear which base the 14 who tested positive for the virus went to.
Officials said the evacuees who arrived at Travis Air Force Base will be housed at a different location from the more than 200 other Americans who were already being quarantined on the base, in a hotel. Those people have been at the base since early February, when they arrived on flights from China.
No Travis airmen will have contact with the passengers, officials said.
Now that they're in the U.S., the cruise ship passengers must go through another 14 days of quarantine at the military facilities — meaning they will have been under quarantine for a total of nearly four weeks.
Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and Italy were planning similar flights of passengers. Other governments, including Canada and Hong Kong, also will require the passengers to undergo a second 14-day quarantine.
Japan on Monday announced another 99 infections on the Diamond Princess, raising the ship's total number of cases to 454. Overall, Japan has 419 confirmed cases of the virus, including one death. The United States has confirmed 15 cases within the country. Separately, one U.S. citizen died in China.
Americans Cheryl and Paul Molesky, a couple from Syracuse, New York, opted to trade one coronavirus quarantine for another, leaving the cruise ship to fly back to the U.S. Cheryl Molesky said the rising number of patients on the ship factored into the decision.
"We are glad to be going home," Cheryl Molesky earlier told NHK TV in Japan. "It's just a little bit disappointing that we'll have to go through quarantine again, and we will probably not be as comfortable as the Diamond Princess, possibly."
She sent The Associated Press a video of her and her husband boarding the plane with other Americans.
"Well, we're exhausted, but we're on the plane and that's a good feeling. Pretty miserable wearing these masks though, and everybody had to go to the bathroom on the bus," she said.
Some American passengers said they would pass up the opportunity to fly to the United States because of the additional quarantine. There also was worry about being on a long flight with other passengers who may be infected or in an incubation period.
One of the Americans, Matthew Smith, said in a tweet Sunday that he saw a passenger with no face mask talking at close quarters with another passenger. He said he and his wife scurried away.
"If there are secondary infections on board, this is why," he said. "And you wanted me to get on a bus with her?"
He said the American health officials who visited their room was apparently surprised that the couple had decided to stay, and wished them luck.
"Thanks, but we're fine," Smith said he told them.
Mainland China reported 1,886 new virus cases and 98 more deaths for a total of 1,868 in its update Tuesday, following a report that 80% of cases have been mild, prompting guarded optimism from health officials.
The latest figures come after health officials in China published the first details on nearly 45,000 cases of infection with the coronavirus that originated there, saying more than 80% have been mild and new ones seem to be falling since early this month.
A total of 72,436 cases have been reported in mainland China as of Tuesday, although a spike in recent cases was due to a broader definition in the hardest-hit region based on doctors' diagnoses before laboratory tests were completed.
Monday's report from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention gives the World Health Organization a "clearer picture of the outbreak, how it's developing and where it's headed," WHO's director-general said at a news conference.
"It's too early to tell if this reported decline will continue. Every scenario is still on the table," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
China may postpone its annual congress in March, its biggest political meeting of the year, to avoid travel while the disease is still spreading. The standing committee for the National People's Congress will meet Feb. 24 to deliberate on a postponement of the meeting due to start March 5.
The new disease, called COVID-19, first emerged in December in Wuhan, the capital of central China's Hubei province, and has spread to more than two dozen other countries.
The new study reports on 44,672 cases confirmed in China as of Feb. 11. The virus caused severe symptoms such as pneumonia in 14% of them and critical illness in 5%.
The fatality rate for these confirmed cases is 2.3% — 2.8% for males versus 1.7% for females.
That's lower than for SARS and MERS, which are caused by two similar viruses, but COVID-19 ultimately could prove more deadly if it spreads to far more people than the others did. Ordinary flu has a fatality rate of 0.1% yet kills hundreds of thousands because it infects millions each year.
The COVID-19 cases include relatively few children, and the risk of death rises with age. It's higher among those with other health problems — more than 10% for those with heart disease, for example, and higher among those in Hubei province versus elsewhere in China.
Cases seem to have been declining since Feb. 1, but that could change as people return to work and school after the Chinese holidays, the report warns. Beijing has sought to forestall that by extending the Lunar New Year holiday, imposing tight travel restrictions and demanding 14 days off self-quarantine for anyone returning from outside their immediate region.
Hundreds of cases have been confirmed outside China, with a significant number on a cruise ship quarantined at a port near Tokyo.
Japanese officials on Monday confirmed 99 more people were infected on the Diamond Princess, bringing the total to 454. The Health Ministry said it has now tested 1,723 people on the ship, which had about 3,700 passengers and crew aboard. Outside China, the ship has the largest number of cases of COVID-19.
Japan has 518 confirmed cases, including the 454 from the cruise ship, and one death from the virus.
The U.S. evacuated 328 American passengers, with most of them now in a 14-day quarantine at military bases in California and Texas. Fourteen of them have the virus and were taken to hospitals in California and Nebraska.
Any quarantined passengers who shows symptoms of the virus will be taken to a hospital off the base "for containment and specialized care," according to a statement from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesman Scott Pauley. The CDC rather than the Department of Defense is responsible for all parts of the quarantine operation.
The feel-good story of how Cambodia allowed a cruise ship to dock after it was turned away elsewhere in Asia for fear of spreading a new disease took an unfortunate turn after a passenger later tested positive for the virus.
News over the weekend that an 83-year-old American woman who was on the ship and flew from Cambodia to Malaysia was found to be carrying the virus froze further movement of the passengers and crew of the Westerdam. Some are in hotels in Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, while others are still aboard the ship.
The American woman was among several hundred passengers who were flown out of Cambodia on Friday and Saturday. According to authorities in Malaysia, 143 continued their flights home from that country, while the woman and her 84-year-old husband, who was diagnosed with pneumonia, remained behind for treatment.
The dispersal around the world of passengers from the ship with possible exposure to the new coronavirus has sparked concern.
"I think now given that there is a confirmed case that is suspected to have acquired infection on board the ship, the other passengers should be asked to quarantine themselves at home and alert health authorities if they develop fever or respiratory symptoms within the 14 days since disembarkation," said Professor Benjamin Cowling from the School of Public Health at Hong Kong University.
Dr. Gagandeep Kang, executive director of India's Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, said it is unclear whether the woman's infection would result in an outbreak in another part of the world. The virus that causes the disease named COVID-19 has been confirmed in about two dozen countries, with most cases concentrated in China, where it emerged in December.
"We will have to wait and see," she said, adding that it would depend on where the woman got the infection, and at what stage of the infection she was in while in contact with other people.
The ship's operator, Holland America Line, said in a statement Monday that Cambodian health officials were on the ship testing the 255 guests and 747 crew who were awaiting clearance, and that guests currently staying at a Phnom Penh hotel had all been tested.
"At this time, no other guests or crew on board or at the hotel have reported any symptoms of the illness. Guests who have already returned home will be contacted by their local health department and provided further information," it said.
The statement added that the virus patient had not reported any illness to the Westerdam's medical center during the cruise. Twenty people who reported illness while on board have tested negative for the virus, it said.
The rest of the passengers and crew had health checks that included filling out a written health questionnaire and having their temperatures checked, which has become standard procedure for air and sea passengers considered at risk.
Several Westerdam passengers from the United States and elsewhere have already returned home and spoken to the media.
Two of the passengers, Joseph Schaeffer and his wife, Paulette, a retired nurse, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal from their home in Henderson, Nevada, that they felt the hue and cry over the released passengers was not totally merited.
"It doesn't seem to me that the whole world should be jumping at this," Joseph Schaeffer said.
"There are more deaths from the flu than there have been from this particular virus," his wife said.
The couple said they were screened on their way home at airports in Phnom Penh and Singapore by thermal scanners that remotely monitor arriving passengers.
On arrival in Los Angeles, they said, they were among a large crowd getting screened that included fellow cruise passengers. They said they answered questions gfrom the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that included whether they felt sick, had visited mainland China or knew anyone who had contracted the virus.
Two Canadians who returned via Vancouver International Airport were asked to put on protective face masks on arrival but were not otherwise isolated, Canada's CBC News reported.
"We were asked a few questions and filled out an immigration form, and they very nicely helped us bypass the usual lineups and let us out the door," said Joseph Hansen, who took the cruise with his wife. "We're feeling fine."
Hansen, from Surrey, British Columbia, told CBC that he did not hear about the American woman in Malaysia with the virus until he landed in Vancouver on Sunday.
"I guess on the one hand it's upsetting to know that there was one case, but we're feeling fine," he said. "We've had health scans, temperature scans and we don't have any concerns for our own health."
Cambodia's government had originally earned kudos from the head of the U.N.'s World Health Organization and the U.S. ambassador there for allowing the ship to dock at Sihanoukville after it was turned away by Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Guam and Thailand.
The move was seen as a victory for the image of Cambodia's authoritarian leader, who welcomed the ship's passengers with handshakes and flowers. Prime Minister Hun Sen boasted that although Cambodia is a poor country, it "has always joined the international community to solve the problems that the world and our region are facing."
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had said he was pleased Cambodia had agreed to accept the Westerdam and described it as an example of the international solidarity advocated by the U.N. health agency.
"The one thing I can say is we're very, very grateful that Cambodia has opened literally its ports and its doors to people in need," U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia W. Patrick Murphy said Saturday when he took his family to the port to meet passengers. "We think this sends a strong message. We all have to help each other."
In hindsight, however, Cambodia's handling of the ship's passengers has been criticized on social media, though it also has gotten some support.
According to Cowling, the Hong Kong University professor, it's a good idea to let passengers leave and monitor them after disembarkation.
Since there were no known cases on board the Westerdam at the time passengers left the ship, it was reasonable to allow them to travel home, he said.
"I think it would not be appropriate to keep passengers on the ship for 14 days, as it could be a high-risk environment," Cowling said.
"We have seen the consequences of holding passengers on a cruise ship with the Diamond Princess outbreak," he said, referring to another cruise ship that is quarantined in Yokohama, Japan, with hundreds of cases among the passengers.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in his latest Africa stop on Monday praised Angola's president for his dramatic actions to recover billions of dollars looted bycorrupt officials, saying it would help attract investment to one of Africa's largest economies.
"This country has been held hostage to that corruption for far too long," Pompeo told reporters. "This reform agenda that the president put in place has to stick."
President Joao Lourenco since taking office in 2017 has acted even against family members of former leader Eduardo dos Santos , who ruled for nearly four decade s. A recent investigation by a global consortium of journalists into dos Santos' daughter Isabel, reputedly Africa's richest woman, led to allegations of widespread mismanagement of state funds, which she has denied.
The United States also sees oil-rich but largely impoverished Angola as a prime country in which to counter the influence of China. The southern African nation borrowed $40 billion from China between 2005 and 2019, representing about half of its external debt, according to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.
Pompeo and Lourenco discussed China's role in Africa, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said, without giving details.
In a joint press conference with Pompeo, Angolan Foreign Minister Manuel Augusto said the secretary of state's visit is a sign that the Trump administration supports the government of Lourenco, a former defense minister, and his reforms.
Asked when President Donald Trump might visit Africa, Pompeo told reporters he would be taking back an invitation from Lourenco but warned that this election year is very busy.
Pompeo's visit to Africa is the first by a Cabinet official in 18 months. Analysts have said his challenge lies in countering the messaging out of Washington, as the Pentagon considers cutting U.S. military presence in Africa and new visa restrictions target Nigerians, Sudanese, Tanzanians and Eritreans.
The secretary of state was expected to arrive late Monday in Ethiopia, Africa's second most populous country and a key U.S. security ally in the Horn of Africa region. Its Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is under pressure to uphold his dramatic political reforms amid rising ethnic tensions ahead of a major election in August.
Abiy's government is also under pressure from the U.S. to reach an agreement with Egypt on the massive Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project that Ethiopia says is crucial to pull its people out of poverty. Egypt, however, worries that the dam will limit its access to the Nile River waters.
The countries, along with Sudan, are expected to come to a final agreement late this month in Washington.
Global stocks mostly rose Monday, with Shanghai's benchmark jumping over 2% after the central bank rolled out support for the economy amid a virus outbreak that has infected over 71,000 people globally. Japan's market slumped, however, on weak economic growth figures.
Britain's FTSE 100 gained 0.3% to close at 7,433.25, while France's CAC 40 gained 0.3% to 6085.95. Germany's DAX added 0.3% as well to end the day at 13,783.89. Wall Street remained closed for Presidents' Day. Futures for the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average edged 0.2% higher in electronic trading.
The Shanghai Composite index jumped 2.3% to 2,983.62 after the central bank and government announced a slew of measures to support the economy as the country battles an outbreak of a new virus that has killed 1,774 people.
The People's Bank of China cut its one-year medium-term lending rate to 3.15% from 3.25%. It also injected some 300 billion yuan ($43 billion) into the markets through short-term purchases of securities and other injections of cash.
Such moves will likely be followed by more, said Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics, given that many of the companies worst affected by the virus outbreak are smaller ones that lack access to loans from major state-run banks.
The government has also announced plans for tax cuts and other measures to help companies struggling with shut-downs of cities and plunging consumer spending and travel.
"We think the People's Bank of China will need to expand its re-lending quotas and relax constraints on shadow banking in order to direct more credit to struggling (small- and medium-sized companies)," Evans-Pritchard said in a commentary.
The Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo skidded 0.7%, to 23,523.24 after the government reported the economy contracted 6.3% in annual terms in the last quarter.
Analysts said the contraction in the Japanese economy, the world's third-largest, reflected the impact of typhoons, trade tensions and crimped consumer spending after the sales tax rose to 10% from 8% as of Oct. 1. The seasonally adjusted economic data was announced as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces pressure over spreading cases of the new viral illness COVID-19 and markets around the region see a mounting toll from its impact on travel and tourism as authorities strive to contain it.
"Consumer spending, which slumped following the tax hike in the fourth quarter of 2019, will now struggle to do anything except contract further in the first quarter as the impact of Covid-19 weighs on consumer sentiment, weighing in particular on the consumer services sector," analysts at ING bank wrote in a report to investors.
"Some further government spending may help to curb any further contraction in GDP beyond (the first quarter of 2020). But that will not stop what started off as a technical downturn from evolving into a full-blown recession," they said.
Elsewhere in the region, Sydney's S&P ASX/200 edged 1% lower to 7,125.10. South Korea's Kospi fell 0.1% to 2,242.17, while the Hang Seng in Hong Kong climbed 0.5% to 27,959.60. India's Sensex shed 0.4% to 41,082.82.
Benchmark U.S. crude oil picked up 7 cents to $52.12 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It closed 1.2% higher on Friday, notching its first weekly gain in six weeks. Brent crude oil, the international standard, rose 2 cents to $57.34 a barrel.
The slide in oil prices has weighed on energy stocks. The sector is the biggest loser in the S&P 500, down 10.2% so far this year.
More than three quarters of S&P 500 companies have reported earnings and the results so far show solid growth. Companies are expected to report overall profit growth of just under 1% when all the reports are in, according to estimates from FactSet.
In currency markets, the dollar rose to 109.91 Japanese yen from 109.77 yen on Friday. The euro edged down to $1.0836 from $1.0839.