Another six Americans quarantined in Texas have tested positive for the coronavirus that now threatens to rise to pandemic levels, San Antonio health officials said on Monday.
With the addition of these new patients - which include five evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship and one from Wuhan, the outbreak’s epicenter in China - the number of Americans with coronavirus has soared to 53.
Despite the fact that cases have more than tripled in 10 days, President Donald Trump tweeted with full confidence that the ‘Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.’
He also reassured Americans via the social media platform that the stock market is ‘starting to look very good to me,’ despite the Dow’s 1,000 point plummet, for which coronavirus fears have been widely blamed.
It also comes as senior officials told the Associated Press that the White House plans to ask for $130 million in emergency funding to combat the coronavirus outbreak.
Encouragingly, coronavirus cases and deaths seem to have plateaued in China, but the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that, while it hesitates to use the word ‘pandemic,’ the outbreak is teetering on the precipice of that distinction.
And after a controversial decision to repatriate 14 American cruise passengers whose test results came back positive as they were boarding evacuation flights from Japan to the US, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials warned that the it is ‘very likely’ coronavirus will start to spread in US communities.
A total of 53 people in the US now have coronavirus as officials in San Antonio Texas confirmed another six evacuees - five from the Diamond Princess cruise ship and one from Wuhan - have the infection that’s sickened nearly 80,00 people globally
State Department officials defended their decision to fly the 14 people who tested positive for coronavirus in Japan back to the US with uninfected passengers against CDC warnings during a Friday press briefing, pointing to the 328 passengers who’d been evacuated from the Diamond Princess and were stuck waiting to go home on buses (pictured)
Health officials warned the State Department not to fly 14 American cruise passengers from the Diamond Princess who tested positive in Japan back to the US alongside healthy passengers, for fear the virus would spread.
The State Department batted aside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) staunch warnings and flew all 328 evacuees back together on two planes.
Now, 18 of those passengers are positive for the deadly coronavirus that’s killed 2,250 people worldwide, CDC officials confirmed Friday.
Sources involved in the decision told the Washington Post that CDC staunchly warned the State Department against transporting infected and uninfected people side-by-side, but were ultimately overruled.
‘It was like the worst nightmare,’ said a senior US official involved in the decision, who spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity.
‘Quite frankly, the alternative could have been pulling grandma out in the pouring rain, and that would have been bad, too.’
Now, those 328 passengers are all back on US soil after spending more than two weeks on the cruise ship that’s become the most densely infected place in the world outside China.
Asked about the conflict between the two agencies during a Friday press briefing, CDC spokesperson Nancy Messonnier punted curtly to the State Department.
‘It’s important to remember this was an emerging and unusual circumstance,’ said Ian Brownlee, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Consular Affairs.
‘We had 328 people on buses, a plan to execute and we received lab results on people who were otherwise asymptomatic, un-ill people on a bus on the way to the airport.
‘The people on the ground did exactly the right thing…in bringing them home.’
People who had tested positive were put into isolation units on board the two cargo planes, which then flew to Joint Base San Antonio - Lackland in Texas and Travis Air Base in California.
Although officials reassured the press that the sick passengers were thoroughly contained and every precaution had been taken to ensure the safety of the healthy people onboard, reports later emerged that people on the flights had no idea they were sharing yet another even more confined space with infected individuals.
When the planes landed at their respective destinations late Sunday night, six ‘high risk’ passengers from Lackland and seven from Travis were ushered onto an additional flight to Omaha Eppley Airfield in Nebraska.
Eleven of the 13 American passengers evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan who were deemed ‘high risk’ for coronavirus have been confirmed to have the infection that’s spread to nearly 80,000 people around the world.
Twelve of those 13 passengers were being held at the National Quarantine Center in Omaha, Nebraska, while one was transferred immediately to the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit because they had developed symptoms of the virus and had an underlying condition.
All 11 new cases were confirmed Thursday by the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while the other two passengers at UNMC tested negative.
Meanwhile, 16 of the more than 300 other evacuees from the ship who were symptom-free and quarantined at Travis Air Force Base later developed signs of the virus and were transferred to hospitals where they can be isolated, monitored and treated.
Four people were transported to Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Washington, which is specially-equipped to handle dangerous infectious disease in the US and another two are expected to be brought in for isolation, spokesperson Christa Arguinchona told AP Thursday.
Eleven of the 13 ‘high risk’ evacuees from the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan were brought to Nebraska for quarantine, including Carl Goldman (pictured), who developed symptoms has an underlying condition, and was transferred to a biocontainment unit, according to his wife. Now, 11 of the them have tested positive for coronavirus
The State Department confirmed that, after the evacuees had been placed on buses to the airport, 14 people who were not showing symptoms had tested positive for the virus - and were then placed into isolation chambers (pictured)
With 11 new confirmed cases among the Omaha, Nebraska evacuees, there are now 27 cases of coronavirus in eight US states
Officials Monday morning confirmed that 14 of the passengers that were evacuated to the U.S. had tested positive for coronavirus, but would still be allowed to fly back - in isolation chambers - on board the same planes as passengers who were negative for the virus.
One passenger has been transported to the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit after the presented with a cough and lightheadedness after landing at Eppely Air Field. Local officials said that the person has a chronic health condition, but did not specify what sort.
Later, Seratti-Goldman, an evacuee from California, claimed that that individual was her husband, Carl Goldman, who has Guillain-Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disease and developed a fever on the plane and was then unable to walk when they landed.
The biocontainment unit at the University of Nebraska Medical Center is one of just three such facilities in the nation, deemed qualified to handle patients of the Ebola outbreak that infected 11 Americans in 2014.
All 13 high risk passengers were re-tested stateside for coronavirus. Six were flown to Nebraska after landing at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California just before 11.30pm Sunday night and another seven were brought to the quarantine after landing at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, hours later.
It’s not yet clear what type of ‘care’ the patients have received while in isolation, although doctors in the US and abroad have been experimentally using antivirals, a drug designed to treat Ebola, supportive therapies (like IV fluids and ventilators) and, in China, plasma transfusions.
Since arrival, the 12 quarantined passengers have been isolated in their rooms, said Shelly Schwedhelm, an official at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said in a press briefing.
It also remains unclear what protocols have been applied to the remaining patients who tested positive for coronavirus - about four - before taking off from Japan over the weekend to flee the ship where more 454 people have now become infected with the potentially deadly virus after another 99 cases were confirmed Monday.
The Nebraska Biocontainment Unit is one of just three in the U.S. that were designated equipped to contain and treat patients with Ebola during the 2014 outbreak that struck 11 Americans, including one, seen here being transported into the facility
Staff at the Nebraska Biocontainment unit practice placing a subject (an Air Force service member) in one of the specialized chambers that one of 13 evacuees from the Diamond Princess at ‘high risk’ of coronavirus was placed in after arriving at Eppely Air Field in Omaha on Monday. The other 12 patients are in quarantine
Fourteen of the evacuees were placed in isolation chambers on-board their evacuation flights when officials realized they had tested positive for the deadly virus.
The first 747 plane touched down at Travis Air Force Base in Northern California just before 11.30pm on Sunday local time, before the second plane arrived at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas a few hours later.
The passengers had all been deemed ‘fit to fly’ and were not showing symptoms before disembarking from the cruise ship. As the evacuees were being taken to the airport in Tokyo, results from tests carried out two to three days earlier came back and showed the 14 passengers had the infection.
Despite the U.S. earlier saying no infected passenger would be allowed to leave, those who tested positive were still allowed to board the planes because they did not have symptoms. The State Department said they were being isolated separately from other passengers on the flights.
Health officials at the CDC advised against transporting the 14 people positive for coronavirus, but the State Department eventually
The U.S. said it arranged the evacuation because people on the Diamond Princess were at a high risk of exposure to the virus given more than 450 passengers have tested positive since the cruise liner was ordered to stay under quarantine on February 4.
As countries extricated their respective citizens from the cruise liner, which is by far the largest cluster of coronavirus cases outside China, some 3,000 people who have spent the last two weeks or more in a high risk environment fanned out across the globe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials have warned that people can be asymptomatic, test negative for coronavirus and still develop later. They and World Health Organization (WHO) experts have also cautioned that even asymptomatic people can have and transmit the virus.
And that has some experts very worried.
‘There’s a possibility that anyone who is infected and asymptomatic could start a chain of infection wherever they return to,’ Dr Stanley Deresinkski, a professor and infectious disease specialist at Stanford University told Fortune.
He was referring to passengers from the Westerdam cruise ship, currently in Cambodia but preparing to return home despite the fact that an 84-year-old American woman on board was diagnosed with coronavirus, but the same could certainly be true of the Diamond Princess, by far the largest cluster of coronavirus cases outside China.
A second plane carrying Americans evacuated from the Diamond Princess ship arrives at Joint Base San Antonio in Texas after flying back from Tokyo
One of two planes carrying 340 Americans back to the US from Japan where they spent almost two weeks under coronavirus quarantine on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship has landed at Travis Air Force Base in California (pictured)
The sick passengers were allowed to continue on the flight but inside the isolation chambers (pictured), and will be taken for treatment separate to the other passengers after landing
340 Americans decided to abandon ship and take the government charter flights back to the US, where they will be under additional quarantine on two military bases for another 14 days
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 came as Japanese officials confirmed 99 additional people had been infected by the virus aboard the quarantined cruise ship, bringing the total to 454. At least 62 Americans are among those infected but it is unclear if that figure includes the 14 who were evacuated.
The United States was the first country to evacuate its passengers from the ship. Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and Italy were planning similar flights of passengers.
More than 73,000 people have now been infected with the virus worldwide, while 1,873 people have died from it. 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.
U.S. authorities had announced on Saturday that they would offer the 380 Americans on board the option to leave the ship. The evacuation was not mandatory but the Americans who chose not to leave the ship were warned they wouldn’t be allowed to return to the U.S. ‘for a period of time’ that will be determined later by the Centres for Disease Control.
Those who arrived at Travis Air Force Base in California have been told they will be quarantined at the Westwind Inn on the base, which is the same place where those evacuated from Wuhan are being held. They will be kept in a separate part of the building to those who are already in quarantine.
The Americans who did evacuate the ship said they were frustrated about the additional two-week quarantine in the U.S. because they believed they would be able to walk free from the Diamond Princess when the ship’s quarantine is scheduled to be lifted on Wednesday.
‘It’s like a prison sentence for something I did not do,’ passenger Karey Mansicalco told CNN from her cabin. ‘They are holding us hostage for absolutely no reason.’
‘On cargo plane. You cannot Imagine. Crazy or worst dream ever,’ American evacuee Gay Courter wrote on Facebook after boarding one of the flights at Tokyo International Airport.
Her husband Philip added: ‘Huge windowless B-747 cargo plane with some seats bolted in. Destination unknown at this time.’
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.’
When they eventually boarded the plane with other Americans, Cheryl said: ‘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.’
Japan said that 340 Americans were taken to Tokyo’s airport to be evacuated, while another those who had already been diagnosed were forced to stay behind for treatment. A handful of others opted to stay
Passengers on board the 747 cargo airplane could be seen taking pictures as they arrived back in America, having been held on the cruise ship since February 3
Buses carrying U.S. passengers who were aboard the quarantined cruise ship the Diamond Princess, seen in background, leaves Yokohama port, near Tokyo, early Monday. The cruise ship was carrying nearly 3,500 passengers and crew members
Passengers are seen boarding one of two planes bound for the U.S. at Tokyo’s Haneda airport late Sunday after they evacuated the Diamond Princess cruise ship
A bus carrying U.S. passengers who were aboard the quarantined cruise ship the Diamond Princess arrives at Haneda airport in Tokyo, before the passengers board a Kalitta airplane chartered by the U.S. government
Other Americans on board the cruise ship declined to evacuate the Diamond Princess, despite being warned they will still have to wait two weeks and test negative for the virus before being allowed back to the United States.
They feared being on a long flight with other passengers who may be infected or in an incubation period.
‘My health is fine. And my two-week quarantine is almost over. Why would I want to be put on a bus and a plane with other people they think may be infected when I have spent nearly two weeks isolated from those people?’ Matt Smith, an American lawyer on the ship with his wife, tweeted.
He described a fellow American passenger standing on her balcony chanting ‘USA, USA’ as buses arrived to collect them.
‘Of course, in contravention of the rules of quarantine, she’s not wearing a face mask and she’s talking with a passenger on the adjacent balcony… And you wanted me to get on a bus with her?’
He said American officials in hazmat suits and face masks had visited his room to check if he would disembark but he said he wanted to stay.
Later, when Smith had learned 14 infected passengers were still allowed to board the flights, he tweeted: ‘OMG! US Gov’t said they would not put anyone on the planes who was symptomatic, and they ended up knowingly and intentionally putting on 14 people who actually have the virus. Decision not to be evacuated = best decision ever!’
Japanese authorities, dressed in head-to-toe protective suits, helped transport the Americans to the airport in Tokyo on a convoy of 14 buses.
Americans Cheryl and Paul Molesky, a couple from Syracuse, New York, said after boarding the flight: said: ‘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.’
Americans who evacuated the cruise ship are pictured boarding one of the two planes that took them back to the U.S.
Those Americans who chose to leave the Diamond Princess are seen in a chartered evacuation aircraft to fly back to the US
Phil Courter, a U.S. passenger on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship, wears a face mask on a chartered evacuation aircraft to fly back to the United States at Haneda airport in Japan
Health officials in protective suits are seen ferrying passengers to board the evacuation flights in Tokyo
American Sarah Arana, a 52-year-old medical social worker, said there were no health checks when they passed through a makeshift passport control.
She said the U.S. government should have acted ‘much sooner, at the beginning’.
‘I am happy and ready to go,’ Arana told AFP before leaving the ship. ‘We need a proper quarantine. This was not it.’
Across mainland China, officials said the total number of coronavirus cases rose by 2,048 to 70,548. That was slightly more new cases than were reported on Sunday, but hundreds fewer than reported on Saturday.
Chinese authorities say the stabilisation in the number of new cases is a sign that measures they have taken to halt the spread of the disease are having an effect.
However, epidemiologists say it is probably still too early to say how well the outbreak is being contained within China and its central Hubei province, where the virus first appeared.
China has responded to the COVID-19 virus by effectively locking down Hubei’s provincial capital Wuhan, a megacity of 11 million people.
Medical workers in protective suits attend to a patient inside an isolated ward of Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan, the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak
Medical staff members treating a patient infected by the COVID-19 coronavirus at the Wuhan Red Cross Hospital in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province
Concerns remain about the global transmission, especially on cruise ships which appear to have become especially virulent breeding grounds.
Fears are growing for passengers on the Westerdam cruise ship, who all received a clean bill of health when they disembarked in Cambodia - a staunch ally of Beijing.
An 83-year-old American woman was stopped by authorities in Malaysia over the weekend when she was detected with a fever and later diagnosed with the virus.
There were more than 2,200 passengers and crew on the ship when it docked in Sihanoukville, many of whom have now dispersed around the globe.
With tourism battered and global supply chains disrupted by the virus, experts are fretting about the toll it could take on a fragile global economy.
IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva said there could be a cut of around 0.1-0.2 percentage points to global growth but stressed there was ‘still a great deal of uncertainty.’
Japan, one of the hardest-hit countries outside China irrespective of the Diamond Princess, suffered its biggest economic slump in more than five years - even before the coronavirus crisis. Gross domestic product in the world’s third-top economy shrank an eye-watering 1.6 percent in the three months to December - a much bigger contraction than economists had feared.
It comes after Chinese scientists revealed the deadly virus may have started life in a research facility just 300 yards from the Wuhan fish market.
A new bombshell paper from the Beijing-sponsored South China University of Technology says that the Wuhan Center for Disease Control (WHCDC) could have spawned the contagion in Hubei province.
‘The possible origins of 2019-nCoV coronavirus,’ penned by scholars Botao Xiao and Lei Xiao claims the WHCDC kept disease-ridden animals in laboratories, including 605 bats.
It also mentions that bats - which are linked to coronavirus - once attacked a researcher and ‘blood of bat was on his skin.’
The report says: ‘Genome sequences from patients were 96% or 89% identical to the Bat CoV ZC45 coronavirus originally found in Rhinolophus affinis (intermediate horseshoe bat).’