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Coronavirus cruise: American passengers evacuate ship to return to the U.S.

Boston Herald logo Boston Herald 2/17/2020 Rick Sobey
a bus that is driving down the road: A bus leaves the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship at a port Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020, in Yokohama, near Tokyo. The U.S. says Americans aboard a quarantined ship will be flown back home on a chartered flight Sunday, but that they will face another two-week quarantine. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong) © Provided by Boston Herald A bus leaves the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship at a port Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020, in Yokohama, near Tokyo. The U.S. says Americans aboard a quarantined ship will be flown back home on a chartered flight Sunday, but that they will face another two-week quarantine. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Hundreds of Americans facing a high risk of exposure to the coronavirus on a quarantined cruise ship near Tokyo, Japan, started to evacuate the virus hot spot Sunday night and fly back to the United States, where they will be quarantined for another 14 days.

Also on Sunday, the Chinese president came under fire for not taking early action to stop the spread of the illness — which has now infected more than 69,000 people around the world.

“At the very beginning of this, there may have been the initial suppression of information,” Davidson Hamer, a Boston University specialist in infectious diseases, told the Herald on Sunday.

On mainland China as of Sunday, more than 1,600 people have died from the coronavirus. There have been 68,500 cases there — mostly in the central province of Hubei.

Fifteen people in the U.S. have been infected with the coronavirus.

About 300 Americans on the cruise ship in Japan were taking charter flights home, as Japan announced another 70 infections had been confirmed on the Diamond Princess.

The U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said passengers will get a checkup before being allowed on the plane. Those with symptoms will not be allowed on the flight, the embassy added.

All passengers will need to go through another 14 days of quarantine in the U.S.

“We are glad to be going home,” Cheryl Molesky 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.”

But not all American passengers decided to take a charter plane home, noting they would have to face another two-week quarantine.

Matthew Smith, a passenger on the cruise ship, tweeted, “Please stop telling us to leave everything behind for our health. Our health is fine. And what is likely to happen if we stay here is we will test negative next week and the Japanese will let us go. Your (and our government’s) alternative is to cram us on a bus and a plane with people who have not finished quarantine or been tested, all so we can be locked up for 2 more weeks in the US? That’s just stupid.”

Smith added in a tweet that “American officials — totally garbed with full hazmat suits, full face masks, etc. — stop by to confirm that we are not abandoning the ship with the others. Confirmed. ‘Well,  best of luck to you,’ the lead spaceman says, sincerely. Thanks, but we’re fine.”

Also on Sunday, a recent speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping indicates for the first time that he was leading the response to a new virus outbreak from early on in the crisis.

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The publication of the Feb. 3 speech was an apparent attempt to demonstrate that the Communist Party leadership had acted decisively from the beginning, but also opens up the Chinese leader to criticism over why the public was not alerted sooner.

In the speech, Xi said he gave instructions on fighting the virus on Jan. 7 and ordered the shutdown that began on Jan. 23 of cities at the epicenter of the outbreak.

The disclosure of his speech indicates top leaders knew about the outbreak’s potential severity at least two weeks before such dangers were made known to the public. It was not until late January that officials said the virus can spread between humans, and public alarm began to rise.

“But after the very beginning, the Chinese government has been consistently communicating with the World Health Organization and other partners to come in and help them,” Hamer said. “It seems like they’ve been doing the right things to be more open with what’s going on, as opposed to the SARS outbreak.”

Herald wire services were used in this report.

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