Thousands on cruise free to go after virus tests

Passengers disembark from the World Dream cruise linerImage copyright

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Passengers have been allowed to disembark the World Dream cruise ship

Thousands of people stuck on a cruise ship in Hong Kong for five days have been allowed to disembark after tests for coronavirus came back negative.

Some 3,600 passengers and crew on the World Dream ship were quarantined amid fears some staff could have contracted the virus on a previous voyage.

Another cruise ship where dozens of cases have been confirmed remains in quarantine off Japan.

The outbreak has killed 813 people, all but two in mainland China.

The coronavirus has now killed more people than Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome). In 2003, that epidemic killed 774 people in more than two dozen countries.

In the Chinese province of Hubei alone, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, the death toll is now put at 780 by regional health officials. More than 34,800 people have been infected worldwide, the vast majority in China.

Why was the ship quarantined?

The World Dream was put in quarantine on Wednesday after it emerged that three passengers who had sailed on a previous voyage were later found to have contracted the virus.

Chief port health officer Leng Yiu-Hong said all crew members – some 1,800 people – had tested negative for coronavirus, and that everyone would be allowed to disembark without the need to self-quarantine after leaving.

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The passengers had to stay on the ship for five days

On Sunday, Hong Kong’s health minister said 468 people had been ordered to stay at home, in hotel rooms or government-run centres, one day after officials implemented a mandatory two-week quarantine period for anyone arriving from mainland China.

In mainland China, millions of people were preparing to return to work after an extended Lunar New Year break, imposed in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus. However, a high number of companies and businesses will remain closed and many people are expected to work from home.

In Hebei province (which surrounds the capital, Beijing), state media reported schools would remain shut until at least 1 March, while many parts of Hubei province remain on lockdown. Other areas are under severe travel and gathering restrictions.

What else is happening?

Several more cases were confirmed on the Diamond Princess cruise ship that has been on quarantine in the Japanese city of Yokohama for nearly a week, the Kyodo news agency reports. Authorities said on Saturday 64 people had been infected on the ship, which is carrying some 3,700 passengers and crew.

In other developments:

  • A fourth case has been confirmed in the UK, of a person who contracted it in France
  • A British man tested positive in Mallorca, the second case in Spain
  • More than 200 British and foreign nationals evacuated from Wuhan, in Hubei province, arrived at RAF Brize Norton

On Saturday, the chief of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said the virus was still concentrated in Hubei, and that over the previous four days, it appeared that the number of cases had stabilised slightly.

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Media captionThe BBC’s online health editor on what we know about the virus

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, China’s ambassador to the UK said it was still “very difficult to predict when we’re going to have an inflection point”, but that the “isolation and quarantine measures have been very effective”.

Liu Xiaoming called the disease “the enemy of mankind”, but said it was “controllable, preventable, curable” and told people not to panic.

Last month, the WHO declared a global health emergency over the new outbreak. Of the two deaths reported outside China, one was in Hong Kong and the other in the Philippines.

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