Vulnerable Australians trapped on a “contaminated prison ship” docked in Japan fear for their lives as the on-board infection rate has tripled, making it the epicentre of the most coronavirus cases outside mainland China.
Seven Australians are among 61 passengers confirmed with the deadly illness and forced into quarantine lockdown for up to two more weeks.
At least three cruise ships in Asia have had their travel plans disrupted over outbreak fears, with the Westerdam in the East China Sea unable to find a port to accept it, leaving thousands of people trapped in limbo at sea.
An infected Australian passenger from the Diamond Princess in Yokohama, Japan, who asked not to be named, told the ABC her symptoms were mild but she worried more that her husband aged in his 70s might contract it.
“He is very anxious and very upset and he will need assistance. He can’t come with me (to hospital) as there isn’t room, and obviously it would be dangerous,” she said.
“He was tested negative but … he’s asked to be retested because obviously he’s been in close contact with me. My concern is if he has the virus it will go to his chest … he is quite old.”
“I feel fine. A bit stressed as you could imagine and quite anxious. Pretty much the same as you would if you were fighting a low-grade infection, I guess.
“But nothing major. No temperatures, no headaches. Nothing, really.”
Frightened tourists have described being trapped on board a ‘contaminated prison’, with one telling the ABC people were basically saying ‘we’re doomed’ after realising they had been in close contact with the first infected passenger – an 80-year-old man from Hong Kong.
A second cruise ship, the World Dream, is quarantined in Hong Kong with 2666 passengers on board while some 2000 people on the Westerham have been turned away from the Philippines and Japan.
So far 722 people have died worldwide and 34,546 are known to have been infected — an increase of 3399 diagnosed cases in just 24 hours.
Meanwhile, as face masks sell out around the world, including in Australian chemists, the World Health Organisation warned against hoarding.
WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said demand had risen 100-fold, leading to a “severe” disruption in global supply of masks, gowns, gloves and other protective gear for frontline health workers.
The situation has been made worse by people who are not medical workers buying it for their own use.
Frontline health workers in China, where 31,211 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus have been reported, need the bulk of such supplies, Dr Ghebreyesus said.
Second Australian evacuation
The next group of Australian coronavirus evacuees expected from Wuhan will be quarantined at an old mining camp near Darwin, however the flight has reportedly been delayed.
Passengers on the second flight to extract Australians from China will be sent to the Manigurr-ma Village at Howard Springs, 30km from Darwin, with Christmas Island unable to house another couple of hundred evacuees.
The Northern Territory will host approximately 280 Australians who are being evacuated from China. The Chief Health…
They will be screened before boarding the plane in China and continuously monitored by medical staff during the flight, the Australian government says.
The flight, originally scheduled to leave on Friday night, was delayed after it did not receive official clearance to land in Wuhan.
Anyone found to be unwell on arrival at Darwin will be taken directly to hospital where they will be quarantined, according to the joint statement from Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, Health Minister Greg Hunt and Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy.
Australia has so far had 15 confirmed coronavirus cases: five in Queensland, four each in NSW and Victoria and two in South Australia.
Doctor’s death sparks anger and grief
China’s online platforms erupted in what has been described as unprecedented anger and grief over the death of Li Wenliang, the whistleblower doctor who first sounded the alarm over coronavirus.
Dr Wenliang was diagnosed just a week ago and his passing on Friday was reported, denied and finally confirmed, sparking outrage over that he had to ‘die twice’.
The hashtags ‘Wuhan government owes Dr Li Wenliang an apology’ and ‘We want freedom of speech’ were reportedly trending on Chinese social media, with around 1.5 billion views but were quickly censored.
Social media users have decried the way Dr Wenliang was detained and harassed by authorities when he originally tried to warn colleagues and the public of the emerging mystery illness.
Some experts claim China’s secrecy could be masking the true figures, with fears the true infection level could be ten times higher.
Chinese researchers believe they have pinpointed the creature that passed the coronavirus to humans – the illegal delicacy the pangolin.
Scientists claim the outbreak could have spread from bats to the world’s only scaly mammal which is prized in Asia for food and medicine.
Pangolins are among Asia’s most trafficked mammals, although protected by international law, because its meat is considered a delicacy in countries such as China and its scales are used in traditional medicine, the World Wildlife Fund says.
“This latest discovery will be of great significance for the prevention and control of the origin (of the virus),” South China Agricultural University, which led the research, said in a statement on its website.
Scientists say that the suggestion that pangolins are the animal source of the coronavirus outbreak seems plausible based on a genetic analysis, but they also caution that the researchers’ work is yet to be published in full. https://t.co/IPtz1h351E
— Nature (@nature) February 7, 2020
The genome sequence of the novel coronavirus strain separated from pangolins in the study was 99 per cent identical to that from infected people, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported, adding the research found pangolins to be “the most likely intermediate host”.
But Dirk Pfeiffer, professor of veterinary medicine at Hong Kong’s City University, cautioned the study was still a long way from proving pangolins had transmitted the virus.
“You can only draw more definitive conclusions if you compare prevalence (of the coronavirus) between different species based on representative samples, which these almost certainly are not,” he said.
Even then, a link to humans via food markets, such as the Wuhan market fingered as ground zero, still needed to be established, Professor Pfeiffer said.