A couple wearing protective face masks kiss at a subway station in Hong Kong on Valentine’s Day on Friday. (Photo: Bloomberg)

No virus peak in sight, another Indian infected on cruise ship

TOKYO/BEIJING : A third Indian crew on board a cruise ship off the Japanese coast has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the Indian embassy in Japan said on Friday as authorities confirmed that 218 people have been infected with the deadly virus on the quarantined ship.

The cruise ship, Diamond Princess, with 3,711 people on board arrived at the Japanese coast early last week and was quarantined after a passenger who de-boarded last month in Hong Kong was found to be infected.

A total of 138 Indians, including 132 crew and six passengers, are on board the ship.

“All 218 people, including Indian nationals, have been taken to hospitals for further treatment and quarantine. As per information available with the embassy, no other Indian national on-board Diamond Princess cruise ship has developed any symptoms of infection," the Indian embassy said.

The Indian embassy has reached out to the Indian nationals—crew members and passengers—through emails and telephone calls and has explained to them about the quarantine regulations of Japanese authorities.
Cruise ship Diamond Princess, with 3,711 people on board, arrived at the Japanese coast last week and was quarantined after a passenger who de-boarded in Hong Kong was found to be infected. (Photo: AP)

Meanwhile, China’s coronavirus outbreak showed no sign of peaking with health authorities on Friday reporting more than 5,000 new cases, while passengers on a cruise ship blocked from five countries due to virus fears finally disembarked in Cambodia.

In its latest update, China’s National Health Commission said it had recorded 121 new deaths and 5,090 new coronavirus cases on the mainland on 13 February, taking the accumulated total infected to 63,851 people.

Some 55,748 people are currently undergoing treatment, while 1,380 people have died of the flu-like virus that emerged in Hubei province’s capital, Wuhan, in December. The latest toll takes account of some deaths that had been double counted in Hubei, the health commission said.

In India, aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on Friday added Japan and South Korea to its list of countries from where passengers coming into India will be screened for coronavirus. Passengers from Thailand, Singapore, China and Hong Kong are already screened for the virus.

In a meeting convened by health secretary Preeti Sudan on Friday, states and Union territories reported that protocols and guidelines issued by the Centre are being followed to avoid a spread. They also said sufficient stocks for personal protection equipment and masks have been procured. Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Sikkim, which border either China or Nepal, have been advised to strengthen the disease surveillance, the ministry said.

Meanwhile, Kerala finance minister Thomas Isaac on Friday said the state has “won the fight over Corona" since all three patients who tested positive for the virus have fully recovered.

“Just as in the case of Nipah, Kerala has won battle with Corona Virus," he tweeted.

According to the Johns Hopkins university’s live tracker for the disease, there are 64,447 positive cases across the world, mostly in mainland China, with 1,384 people dying of the coronavirus disease.

The new figures give no indication that the outbreak is nearing a peak, said Adam Kamradt-Scott, an infectious diseases expert at the Centre for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney.

“Based on the current trend in confirmed cases, this appears to be a clear indication that while the Chinese authorities are doing their best to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the fairly drastic measures they have implemented to date would appear to have been too little, too late," he said.

Chinese scientists are testing two antiviral drugs and preliminary results are weeks away.

The head of a hospital in Wuhan, a city under virtual lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus, told reporters on Thursday that plasma infusions from recovered patients had shown some encouraging preliminary results.

Japan confirmed its first coronavirus death—a woman in her 80s living in Kanagawa prefecture near Tokyo—on Thursday. The death was the third outside mainland China, after two others in Hong Kong and the Philippines.

A top infectious-disease scientist warned that things could get far worse: Two-thirds of the world’s population could catch it.

Estimates by Ira Longini, an adviser to the World Health Organization who tracked studies of the virus’s transmissibility in China, imply that there could eventually be billions more infections than the current official tally of about 60,000.

Neetu Chandra Sharma, Rhik Kundu and M.K. Nidheesh contributed to this story.