14 Americans evacuated from cruise ship in Japan test positive for novel coronavirus

Meanwhile, China considers canceling annual congress meeting.

February 17, 2020, 3:32 PM

China's annual congress meeting in March will likely be delayed because of the ongoing novel coronavirus outbreak, the committee for the National People's Congress said Monday.

Postponing the biggest political meeting of the year would be in the best interest of citizens' safety and health, Xinhua, China's state-run news agency, reported.

High-profile cancellations linked to the outbreak continue, with Beijing postponing its International Automotive Exhibition on Monday. The event, which was originally slated for April 21-30, will be rescheduled in order to "to ensure the health and safety of exhibitors and participants," the organization said in a statement.

The Tokyo Marathon will take place as scheduled on March 1 but race organizers dramatically reduced the number of runners who are eligible to participate. Only elite runners and wheelchair participants will be allowed to compete in what was previously expected to be a 38,000-person event. "We cannot continue to launch the event within the scale we originally anticipated," race organizers said in a statement Monday.

New data out of China is giving scientists a clearer picture of the outbreak, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general at the World Health Organization, said Monday at a news conference.

More than 44,000 patients have confirmed cases of novel coronavirus and the mortality rate of about 2% appears less deadly than SARS or MERS.

About 80% of people who contracted the virus had mild symptoms and recovered, while 14% of cases included severe symptoms, such as pneumonia and shortness of breath. Roughly 5% of patients had critical symptoms like organ and respiratory failure and septic shock. Risk of death increased with age, and relatively few children contracted the disease. Scientists need more research to understand why so few cases of the disease have been in children.

While the data appear to show a decline in cases, Tedros cautioned that the trend should be "interpreted very cautiously."

"It’s too early to tell if this reported decline will continue," he said. "Every scenario is still on the table."

Countries with Confirmed Coronavirus Cases
ABC Photo Illustration

Meanwhile, more than 300 Americans who were passengers aboard a cruise ship quarantined at sea in Japan over coronavirus infections have evacuated the country on two flights chartered by the U.S. government, officials said.

Roughly 60 Americans, some who were hospitalized and others who opted to stay on the ship, remain in Japan.

After disembarking from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, 14 of the passengers were found to be infected with the novel coronavirus, known officially as COVID-19, prior to boarding the charter planes at Tokyo International Airport on Monday. The passengers, who had been tested a couple days earlier, "were moved in the most expeditious and safe manner to a specialized containment area on the evacuation aircraft to isolate them in accordance with standard protocols," according to a joint statement from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

"After consultation with HHS officials, including experts from the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response, the State Department made the decision to allow the 14 individuals, who were in isolation, separated from other passengers, and continued to be asymptomatic, to remain on the aircraft to complete the evacuation process," according to the statement, noting that the individuals would continue to be isolated from the other passengers during the flights.

"All passengers are being closely monitored by medical professionals throughout the flight, and any who become symptomatic will be moved to the specialized containment area, where they will be treated."

PHOTO: American citizens look out from a bus as they arrive at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, Japan, on Feb. 17, 2020.
American citizens look out from a bus as they arrive at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, Japan, on Feb. 17, 2020. The United States has become the first country to offer to repatriate citizens on the Diamond Princess cruise ship while it remains quarantined in Japan's Yokohama port after hundreds of people on board tested positive for the novel coronavirus.
Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

The first charter flight landed at Travis Air Force Base in California early Monday morning. The second landed at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

Upon arrival at Travis Air Force Base, seven individuals, including four who'd tested positive for the virus, were hospitalized near Travis. Three other individuals who tested positive, along with their spouses -- six people in total -- were transferred to the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. When the Lackland Air Force Base flight landed, seven individuals who had tested positive for novel coronavirus were additionally flown to Omaha.

The 13 individuals who were sent to Omaha will be quarantined for the next 14 days and are being re-tested for COVID-19, UNMC health experts said at a Monday news conference. One individual, who was lightheaded and short of breath, and who had an underlying health condition, was transported to the hospital.

COVID-19 causes symptoms similar to pneumonia, ranging from mild, such as a slight cough, to more severe, including fever and difficulty breathing, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is no vaccine yet for the virus, nor any known effective therapeutics.

Passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where a number of people have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, board their charter flight at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, Japan, Feb. 17, 2020.
Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

Utah resident Mark Jorgensen was among the American passengers evacuated from the cruise ship on Monday. He confirmed to ABC News by telephone that he had arrived at Travis Air Force Base in California. His wife, Jerri, however, is still in Japan. She remains isolated in a hospital there after being diagnosed with COVID-19 but is staying positive, Jorgensen told ABC News.

Jorgensen posted several photos and videos to his Facebook page on Monday, documenting the evacuation. He said it took a total of three hours for the hundreds of passengers to disembark the cruise ship and load into nine buses on the dock. On the charter flight, crew members were clad in full protective gear while passengers wore face masks.

"The logistics of putting this together have got to be enormous," Jorgensen wrote in one of his Facebook posts.

A bus arrives near the Diamond Princess cruise ship, where dozens of passengers were tested positive for the novel coronavirus, at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan, Feb. 16, 2020.
Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

The Diamond Princess docked at the Japanese port of Yokohama on Feb. 3 and was placed under quarantine two days later, as passengers and crew tested positive for COVID-19. Since then, at least 454 people on board the cruise ship have been infected with the newly discovered virus. At least one quarantine officer has also been infected, according to Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, which is leading and coordinating the public health response on board.

All those infected with the disease on the Diamond Princess have been brought ashore for treatment, while thousands of other passengers have been confined to their rooms on board until the quarantine period ends. The United States is the first country to evacuate its citizens from the quarantined ship.

Princess Cruises, which operates the ship, announced in a statement Sunday that it will cancel all Diamond Princess voyages through April 20 due to the "prolonged quarantine period." The cruise line is offering a full refund to all 2,666 guests who were on board the ship. More than 400 passengers were from the United States.

The ship is the largest center of infection of anywhere outside China, where the first cases of the new coronavirus were detected last December. The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a global health emergency.

A medical worker in a protective suit takes a break at an isolated ward of Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, the epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Feb. 16, 2020.
China Daily/Reuters

As of Monday, China's National Health Commission said it had received at least 70,635 reports of confirmed cases and 1,772 deaths on the Chinese mainland. More than 82 percent of the confirmed infections were reported in Hubei province, which includes the city of Wuhan, the outbreak's epicenter. An additional 87 confirmed infections had been reported in the Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions as well as Taiwan province. One death was reported in Hong Kong and another in Taiwan, according to China's National Health Commission.

Zeng Yixin, vice minister of China's National Health Commission, told reporters last Friday that 1,716 medical workers are among those infected and six of them have died. Most of the workers were in Hubei province, Zeng said.

The Health Commission of Hubei Province announced last Thursday a change in how cases are diagnosed and counted, with the total number of confirmed cases now including "clinically diagnosed cases," or patients who showed symptoms of the disease and were diagnosed through CT scans of the lungs, for instance, but have not yet had laboratory testing. The expanded criteria is meant to ensure "that patients can receive standardized treatment according to confirmed cases as early as possible to further improve the success rate of treatment," the commission said in a statement.

Outside of China, there were 694 laboratory-confirmed cases in 25 countries and three reported deaths as of Monday, according to the WHO, which would bring the global death toll to 1,775.

Prior to the arrival of the Americans from the Diamond Princess cruise ship, there were 15 reported cases in the United States, according to the WHO. The patients are in Arizona, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. All but two of the U.S. cases are linked to travel to Wuhan, China.

ABC News' Alice Chambers, Joseph Simonetti and Connor Finnegan contributed to this report.

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