About 40 Americans who are being kept on a quarantined cruise ship held off the coast of Japan have contracted the mysterious new virus that has triggered mass lockdowns and supply chain shutdowns in China.
“Forty of them have gotten infected,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, in a Sunday interview in reference to the U.S. citizens on board the Diamond Princess.
“They are not going to go anywhere. They’re going to be in hospitals in Japan,” he told CBS News.
As he made those comments, U.S. officials were working to evacuate hundreds of Americans who are on board the vessel, which has been held in isolation since early February. More than 330 cases of coronavirus, or COVID-19, have been confirmed on the ship, which has about 3,700 passengers and crew members on board.
Outside of mainland China, where the virus is believed to have originated, the Diamond Princess has the most COVID-19 cases in the world.
When Americans are evacuated, those who have symptoms won’t be allowed to return and will have to stay in Japanese hospitals, Fauci told the news outlet. But other passengers will “be evacuated starting immediately,” he said, adding that they will be chartered to Air Force bases across the United States for a 14-day quarantine.
Fauci said passengers who develop symptoms on the chartered flights will be segregated.
“The reason for that is the degree of transmissibility on that cruise ship is essentially akin to being in a hot spot,” he said. “A lot of transmissibility on that cruise ship.”
Japanese health officials over the weekend said that another 70 cases were confirmed, bringing the total onboard the ship to 355.
The U.S. State Department confirmed that a chartered flight will arrive in Japan to evacuate Americans late on Sunday, local time.
“Should you choose not to return on this charter flight, you will be unable to return to the United States for a period of time,” the U.S. Embassy told Americans in an email. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make a final determination on this matter.”
Thousands of people are believed to have been sickened with the new coronavirus in mainland China, although critics have accused the regime of lacking transparency in how it reports on its COVID-19 cases. The virus has spread to about two-dozen other countries, including the United States, where 15 cases have been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Some of the confirmed virus cases to date have been on their second or even third transmission, Fauci told CBS, explaining that COVID-19 isn’t technically classified as a global pandemic. However, it appears to be moving in that direction, he warned.
“The [World Health Organization] wouldn’t be calling this a global pandemic,” he said on the program. “But it certainly is on the verge of that happening reasonably soon unless containment is more successful than it is right now.”
Outside of mainland China, five deaths have been reported. One death was reported in Taiwan on Sunday, and another was reported in France—the first coronavirus death in Europe.
Taiwanese officials said a taxi driver who ferried people from China, Hong Kong, and Macau succumbed to the virus, but he also suffered from diabetes and hepatitis B. In France, an 80-year-old Chinese tourist died after testing positive, said officials.