- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The World Health Organization on Tuesday said keeping passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan seemed preferable to having everyone disperse and spread the coronavirus from China around, though “the situation on the ground has changed.”

Japanese authorities reported 88 new cases, meaning total infections tied to the ship have soared beyond 500.

The U.S. evacuated over 300 passengers — 14 of them tested positive — and other countries are following suit, after days of indecision appeared to let the illness known as COVID-19 spread through the vessel docked off Yokohama.

“Clearly, there’s been more transmission than expected on the ship,” said Mike Ryan, director of WHO’s emergencies program. “The authorities in Japan are adjusting to that reality now and taking the necessary public health measures with other countries to evacuate people and deal with their follow-up in a different way. It’s very easy in retrospect to make judgments on public health decisions made at a certain point.

“It’s an unfortunate event occurring on the ship and we trust that the authorities in Japan and governments who are taking back people will be able to follow up [with] those individuals in the appropriate way,” he added. “It will be very important to study this particular event and see what the issues have been that have led to transmission to the people who’ve been on that ship.”

The vast majority of people on the Diamond Princess do not have COVID-19, though it is the biggest cluster of cases outside of China, where the virus is spreading from its origin in Wuhan, Hubei Province.

WHO said as of Tuesday, China has reported 72,500 cases confirmed in the lab or “clinically” through chest scans. Over 1,850 people have died in China from the coronavirus.

Outside of China, there have been more than 800 cases reported from two dozen countries.

WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus said he spoke to Singapore’s health minister and was “very impressed” by their efforts to find every case and stop transmission, as the case tally on the island city-state climbed to 81.

“Singapore is leaving no stone unturned,” Mr. Tedros said.

WHO’s comments continued a pattern of praising countries for their efforts instead of second-guessing their performance, as some U.S. lawmakers and others rip China’s government, in particular, for early missteps.

Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, reiterated his belief the virus could have originated in a high-level Chinese laboratory.

The senator has faced criticism for floating the theory, given that scientists believe the virus most likely transferred to humans from animals, potentially at a live-animal market in Wuhan.

Mr. Cotton said some of the early cases had no nexus to the market.

“I don’t know where this virus originated. Natural causes somewhere other than that food market is still the most likely hypothesis,” Mr. Cotton told radio host Hugh Hewitt.

He said given the communist Chinese government’s “record of dishonesty and incompetence in managing this crisis,” it’s reasonable to ask whether the outbreak is connected to the lab and allow international scientists to investigate the facility.

“The Chinese Communist Party needs to be transparent about exactly what transpired in Wuhan in the November-December time frame. And the way to do that is to open itself up completely to a team of international scientists to study the matter,” Mr. Cotton said.

The outbreak continued to have a ripple effect on global markets. Stocks for key chip suppliers to Apple fell Tuesday after the iPhone-maker warned it doesn’t expect to meet its quarterly revenue forecast due to the virus, citing supply issues and lower demand in China.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Human Services said it is offering expertise and reallocated funding to Sanofi Pasteur, a unit of Sanofi, to develop a potential vaccine.

Sanofi’s technology can produce a genetic match to the proteins of the new virus. Those proteins will be mixed with a virus that’s harmless to humans, stimulating antigens that spark the immune system.

The antigens will be separate, collected and purified to create stocks of the vaccine candidate.

“Using this proven technology, we can pivot immediately to address this new global health threat. Our goal is a licensed vaccine to provide long-term health security against this latest virus and prevent future coronavirus outbreaks,” said Rick A. Bright, director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA.

BARDA said it is also working with Janssen Research & Development, a part of Johnson & Johnson, to identify medicines that may treat COVID-19 or knock down the severity of cases.

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