- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 16, 2020

The U.S. government sent planes Sunday to retrieve Americans trapped aboard a cruise ship in Japan ravaged by COVID-19, springing hundreds of citizens from their docked despondency while sparking another round of pique by forcing them into another two weeks of quarantine at home.

Buses transported them to a Tokyo airport to board a pair of State Department-chartered planes headed for Travis Air Force Base in California and Lackland Air Force Base near San Antonio for another 14-day stay.

“When you come back to the United States, importantly, they are still subjected to a 14-day quarantine. The reason for that is the degree of transmissibility on that cruise ship is essentially akin to being in a hot spot. A lot of transmissibility on that cruise ship,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director for infectious disease research at the National Institutes of Health, told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

SEE ALSO: Trading quarantines, Americans from cruise land in U.S.

Anyone who tests positive for infection from the coronavirus will be taken to a “suitable off-base facility” under the direction of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Defense Department said.

Over 350 people of various nationalities became infected on the Diamond Princess as it docked off Yokohama, making it the biggest cluster of cases outside China.

The pathogen’s rapid spread prompted many passengers and crew to question why they hadn’t been tested and removed sooner.

Over 40 Americans are among the infected. The sick will go to hospitals in Japan instead of flying straight to the U.S., Dr. Fauci said.

For others, the U.S. Embassy in Japan said the State Department flights were their last chance to leave Japan until March 4, the equivalent of another incubation period for the virus. The ship-based quarantine would have ended Wednesday.

Some passengers fumed about the stateside quarantine period while others thanked the Japanese and U.S. governments and said the added time is needed to ensure public safety.

“If even one life is saved as a result, it’s time well spent. It is my civic responsibility to my country and to my community,” wrote Sarah Arana, an American passenger who had been posting updates on Facebook.

But another passenger, Karey Maniscalco, told NBC News that she felt she was being treated “like a prisoner when I did nothing wrong,” as the virus that causes COVID-19 unspools threads of misery around the globe.

A Chinese tourist in France over the weekend became the first person outside Asia to die from COVID-19. The communist government in China ordered people returning to Beijing from the Lunar New Year holiday to spend 14 days in home quarantine, signaling a desire to keep the capital disease-free even as officials work to get the economy humming again.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus continued to praise Chinese authorities, who have been criticized elsewhere, saying they “bought the world time” with stringent measures.

“I have given credit where it’s due, and I will continue to do that, as I would and I did for any country that fights an outbreak aggressively at its source to protect its own people and the people of the world, even at great cost to itself,” he told the Munich Security Conference in Germany. “It’s easy to blame. It’s easy to politicize. It’s harder to tackle a problem together and find solutions together. We will all learn lessons from this outbreak. But now is not the time for recriminations or politicization.”

WHO said its team of a dozen specialists landed Sunday in China, where over 51,000 lab-confirmed cases had been reported as of Sunday.

Also, 17,000-plus cases have been “clinically confirmed” through new criteria in Hubei province that use chest imaging instead of lab tests, meaning there are over 68,000 reported cases in China.

WHO said 1,666 people in China have died from the disease.

Outside of China, over 680 cases have been confirmed in 25 countries. Egypt reported a case, the first in Africa, and the 80-year-old who died in Paris became the fourth person to succumb to the virus outside of mainland China. Hong Kong, the Philippines and Japan have reported one death each.

The virus has infected over 1,700 health care workers in China, and six of them have died, global officials reported Friday in the first glimpse at how the outbreak is impacting front-line disease fighters.

Whether health care workers can render aid without themselves getting sick is a key factor in the response to an outbreak.

Dr. Li Wenliang, who blew the whistle on the outbreak in early January, only to be detained by authorities, died as a result of the illness Feb. 7 after helping patients at the heart of the outbreak in Wuhan.

WHO said the data provides an important look at the overall picture.

“This is a critical piece of information because health workers are the glue that holds the health system and outbreak response together,” Mr. Tedros said. “But we need to know more about this figure, including the time period and circumstances in which the health workers became sick.”

Even with the best level of protective gear, workers can get infected because they don’t use it correctly, often because of stress or fatigue, officials said. WHO is urging equipment suppliers to prioritize health care workers as they manufacture and ship gear that may protect against infection.

“They are our front line,” Dr. Michael Ryan, director of WHO’s emergencies program. “They are our heroes.”

WHO said its team of specialists will head to Wuhan, where the outbreak began, to study data and conduct workshops on how to fight the virus.

The CDC, meanwhile, said the U.S. case count remains at 15, including three people under quarantine after returning from Wuhan on State Department-chartered flights.

The evacuees from Japan will be housed separately from people already under quarantine in the U.S. because of their return from the epicenter in China.

The CDC is checking evacuees’ temperatures twice daily and monitoring symptoms.

Health care workers will test only those with possible exposure to the virus and who are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 because testing too early within the 14-day incubation period may give inaccurate results.

“People can still later become sick,” said Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “Testing on Day One or Two or Three might produce a negative result.”

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