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U.S. Will Evacuate Americans On Quarantined Cruise Ship In Japan


The U.S. State Department is sending a charter plane to evacuate U.S. citizens from a quarantined cruise ship in Japan. It's welcome new for John Montgomery (ph).

JOHN MONTGOMERY: We're excited and relieved. We just didn't think this quarantine on this ship was a good idea. We thought it'd be much safer for us to get off the ship.

SIMON: Mr. Montgomery and his wife Carol (ph) are among the more than 3,000 people who've stuck on the Diamond Princess, mostly confined to their rooms. And despite the nearly two-week lockdown, there have been more cases of the new coronavirus onboard the ship. infections continue to rise. NPR's Jason Beaubien joins us from Hong Kong. Jason, thanks for being with us.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Well, it's good to be with you.

SIMON: Well, let's begin with that scene aboard the cruise ship. It's quarantined at a dock in Yokohama. What's going on?

BEAUBIEN: Yes. This cruise just keeps getting worse. The Japanese Ministry of Health just announced that another 67 people have tested positive onboard. And that brings the total number of cases to almost 300. Everybody on the Diamond Princess is basically not allowed to leave, the crew and the passengers. They're serving a two-week quarantine. This quarantine may be keeping the virus from spreading into Japan. But it's clearly not stopping it from spreading on board the boat. And the U.S. has finally said it's going to come in, extract any Americans who want to get off. But again, it's not clear that all of those American citizens are going to want to accept the terms of this evacuation.

SIMON: Well, what are those terms? Why would they be reluctant to get off that ship?

BEAUBIEN: I've been communicating with some of the people onboard. And I've seen the letter from the U.S. embassy. And here's the deal they're giving them. If you get off the boat and fly back, you're going to have to do another 14-day quarantine at an air base in the U.S. once you land. These passengers who are on there have almost served out their 14-day quarantine on the Diamond Princess. And if they stayed, they're supposed to get released in another couple of days into Japan. It's not clear that the Japanese would actually let them now that there's been all these extra cases. But they're sort of caught in this very difficult situation at the moment.

SIMON: And what can you tell us about what's going on with the outbreak elsewhere?

BEAUBIEN: So, you know, globally, there have been about 1,500 deaths from the virus. But most of those are in China. All but three actually are in China. Today, France said an 80-year-old Chinese tourist died in Paris. This is the first death outside of Asia. But really, this is a Chinese health problem. And even inside China, it remains primarily a Hubei problem. To be clear, there've been thousands of cases in China that are outside of Hubei. But Hubei very much is the epicenter. Every day, we're getting 2,000, 2,500 cases just out of Hubei and, you know, 100 deaths almost every day just from that province. So this has really stayed fairly tightly focused in - around Wuhan.

SIMON: And is China showing signs of being able to contain this?

BEAUBIEN: You know, that is the big question. You know, it's - it was starting to look like things were plateauing. And then China announced that they were actually changing the way they were counting cases. And that was because they didn't have a way to diagnose all of the cases that were out there. So that has led to a big spike in cases and raised questions about whether there's actually a lot more out there. The other troubling thing that's occurred this week is that the WHO has come out and said that nearly 2,000 health care workers in China have been infected, and six of them have died. That is really a troubling sign in any outbreak when health care workers start getting sick. It shows that infection control is problematic. Yeah. So that's another real concern here.

SIMON: And, Jason, you're here in Hong Kong. What kind of impact is the coronavirus having there?

BEAUBIEN: You know, so there's only been a few dozen cases here. Then those plus the suspect cases have had a huge impact on the health care system. But really the bigger issue here is the economy. The border is now closed with China. Hong Kong is incredibly dependent on China for tourists, shoppers and businesses that operate here. A lot of them work out of China. So that's really where it's being felt.

SIMON: NPR's Jason Beaubien in Hong Kong, thanks so much.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Beaubien is NPR's Global Health and Development Correspondent on the Science Desk.