- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Passengers began evacuating the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan Wednesday after a two-week quarantine in which over 600 people aboard caught the new coronavirus, prompting finger-pointing over conditions that led to the biggest cluster of cases outside China.

Even as they exited, authorities reported that another 79 tested positive for the virus, bringing total cases tied to the ship off Yokohama to 621.

About 500 passengers are expected to get off the ship Wednesday. Just about everyone who tests negative should be off by Friday.

NHK, a Japanese outlet, reported that residents of Japan are free to go home after leaving the ship but will be contacted for a health check-up.

Over 300 American passengers flew back to the U.S. on a State Department-chartered flight earlier this week.

About 100 Americans were still on board the ship, though officials say they must wait 14 days without having symptoms or a positive coronavirus test result before they are permitted to fly back to the U.S.

If they show up on American soil, anyway, they must complete the mandatory quarantine without showing symptoms or a positive test result, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The rapid spread of the coronavirus caused many to question why authorities thought it was best to quarantine passengers and crew on the Diamond Princess instead of off-loading them to quarantine elsewhere.

It also raised questions about the MS Westerdam cruise ship that was welcomed with open arms by Cambodia after days of limbo at sea, given fears about infections.

An 83-year-old American tested positive in Malaysia after leaving the ship, sparking fears there could be other cases tied to the vessel.

The overwhelming number of coronavirus cases are centered in Hubei Province, China, where the outbreak began.

Chinese officials have reported over 75,000 cases in their country and more than 2,000 deaths.

Beijing sounds increasingly confident the virus’ spread will peak soon, as the illness known as COVID-19 becomes a drag on the global economy. Still, the number of unknowns and various strands of cases around the globe have scientists wary.

China expelled three Wall Street Journal reporters on Wednesday, reportedly due to an option piece in the newspaper that criticized China’s response to the outbreak. The expulsions, which are rare, sparked widespread condemnation of the communist government and its practice of censoring dissent.

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