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U.S. To Evacuate Quarantined Americans From Cruise Ship


Earlier today, the U.S. government began the process of evacuating Americans from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan. That's the ship that's been quarantined for weeks because of the coronavirus outbreak. And now officials say 70 additional passengers have been infected with the virus. There are 44 infected Americans. NPR's Jason Beaubien has been following the story from Hong Kong and joins us now.

Hi, Jason.


FADEL: So what's happening with the passengers on that ship, the Diamond Princess?

BEAUBIEN: So things are definitely getting worse on that ship in terms of the spread of the virus. Every day, the number of new people confirmed to be infected is rising, as you just said - 70 new ones yesterday. And it's just been going up and up. The U.S., Canada, South Korea, and Hong Kong are all trying to charter planes and negotiate with Japanese authorities to get their people off of this cruise ship.

The U.S. is the first. They're in the midst of that operation right now. Anyone with U.S. passports or permanent residents - they were offered an opportunity to leave the ship. That started to happen late Sunday night Japan time.

The idea was they're going to be screened. Anyone still showing symptoms was not going to be allowed onto those flights. Some of those people are going to go to Travis Air Base in Northern California. Others are going to go to Joint Base San Antonio Lackland. And they're going to have to serve out another 14-day quarantine at those facilities.

FADEL: So have you had a chance to talk to anyone on the ship?

BEAUBIEN: So I've been trading messages with some of the people onboard. And, you know, conditions are - you know, they've been cooped up there since February 3. That's when they first...


BEAUBIEN: ...Were ordered under quarantine by Japanese authorities. Things have not been easy. They haven't been - you know, they're not supposed to be out. They're supposed to be staying in their cabins.

You know, they were getting quite close to the end of what the Japanese officials said was going to be the original quarantine finish line, which was February 19. Now, it's not clear whether that is going to change, given that these cases continue to come up. Japanese officials have said that anyone who was sharing a cabin, for instance, with someone who just tested positive yesterday - their deadline's going to extend for another 14 days.

They said that they are hoping to get people off. They've been moving some of the elderly off of the boat. But just the logistics of screening thousands of people if they do get to what seems to be, you know, the end of the quarantine - they don't have the logistics to test everybody.

FADEL: Right.

BEAUBIEN: And so that's going to take days just to do.

FADEL: So what's the latest on the worldwide spread of the virus?

BEAUBIEN: So, you know, overall, we're not seeing a huge spread geographically. A case popped up in Egypt. That's the first one in Africa.


BEAUBIEN: For the most part, it's - we're not seeing, you know, new clusters all over the place. However, there is great concern about another cruise ship. It was the Westerdam. That cruise ship, there had been rumors that there were people with coronavirus on it. That ship was denied entry in five different countries before it was finally able to dock in Cambodia.

They screened everybody there. They said that everybody was fine. And a woman who left there, an American woman, ended up testing positive in Malaysia. So there's concern that there might be a lot of people moving about who are infected, and that could lead to more spread.

FADEL: So, in the few seconds we do have left, is there any good news - any signs that anything's getting better, moving in the right direction?

BEAUBIEN: Yeah. We do need to remember the bulk of these cases are still in China. China is still the place that's getting hit the hardest. And there is some good news out of there. I mean, about 10 days ago, they were having high - 3,000, 4,000 cases a day out of China. Yesterday, that number was down to just 2,000. So there is - there are some good signs coming out of China. It looks like it's going down.

FADEL: That's NPR's Jason Beaubien in Hong Kong.

Thank you, Jason.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.
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