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Evacuated Americans carry coronavirus from ship to plane

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                A bus leaves the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship at a port Sunday in Yokohama, near Tokyo.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    A bus leaves the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship at a port Sunday in Yokohama, near Tokyo.

Fourteen Americans who tested positive for the coronavirus were evacuated from a cruise ship in Japan today and flown to the United States, where they will be placed in isolation and receive medical attention.

The passengers were among more than 300 Americans aboard a cruise ship that has been quarantined in Yokohama for more than 10 days. U.S. officials initially said that they would not allow infected people to board the evacuation flights, but they appeared to reverse that decision early Monday.

“During the evacuation process, after passengers had disembarked the ship and initiated transport to the airport, U.S. officials received notice that 14 passengers, who had been tested 2 to 3 days earlier, had tested positive for COVID-19,” the State Department and Department of Health and Human Services said in a joint statement, referring to the illness caused by the new coronavirus.

The two planes chartered to bring the Americans back landed early today at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California.

The 14 infected passengers were moved into a specialized containment area on the evacuation aircraft, where they were to be isolated and monitored.

All the cruise ship passengers, including those who initially tested negative for the virus, will be placed in a 14-day quarantine.

Those who develop symptoms or test positive will be sent to “an appropriate location for continued isolation and care,” the statement added.

With the arrival of the 14 infected passengers from Japan, confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States nearly doubled, to 29.

CHINA CONSIDERS DELAYING MEETING OF NATIONAL LEGISLATURE

China signaled today that it would postpone the annual session of its Communist Party-dominated legislature because of the coronavirus epidemic, a symbolic blow to a government that typically runs with regimented discipline.

The annual full meeting of the legislature, called the National People’s Congress, is a major event in China’s political cycle. President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and other leaders were expected to lay out their agenda for the year, issue the annual budget and pass major legislation.

Each March, with clockwork regularity, nearly 3,000 delegates gather in the grandiose Great Hall of the People next to Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

But delay is now virtually certain, judging from an announcement from the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, which oversees the legislature. The announcement said that the committee will consider delaying the congress.

The National People’s Congress is dominated by Communist Party politicians, and it would be extremely unlikely that the proposal would be up for formal approval unless Xi had agreed it was necessary.

A postponement would be the first time in recent memory that the annual legislative session has been delayed. Even in 2003, when China was battling severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, the congress went ahead as usual.

The terse wording of the announcement gave no clue when the congress would convene.

Delaying the congress is unlikely to seriously derail Chinese policymaking, which is controlled by a small circle of party leaders.

LAWMAKERS TO CONSIDER NEW WILDLIFE LAWS

The coronavirus epidemic has prompted China to reconsider its trade and consumption of wildlife, which has been identified as a probable source of the outbreak.

The practice is driven as much by the desire to flaunt wealth as by a mix of superstition and belief about health benefits from wildlife. Officials drafted legislation to introduce controls and plan to present it at the next preparatory session for the annual National People’s Congress. The details of the proposal are not yet clear, but the goal is to end “the pernicious habit of eating wildlife,” according to a statement released Monday by the Standing Committee of the congress.

Although the exact origin of the coronavirus is still under investigation, health officials and scientists say it spread outward from a wholesale market in Wuhan where vendors legally sold live animals from crowded stalls in close quarters with meats and vegetables.

The epidemic has inflamed public sentiment that the consumption of animals like reptiles, civet cats and hedgehogs is fundamentally unsafe.

The trafficking of endangered or threatened wildlife is prohibited in China, but Wang Ruihe, an official with the National People’s Congress, said last week that enforcement was lax.

The new coronavirus, like the one that caused the SARS outbreak in 2002 and 2003, has been traced to bats and is believed to have jumped from them to another mammal and then to humans. In the case of SARS, the virus first leapt from bats to civets.

One study has suggested that pangolins, an endangered species whose meat and scales are prized in China, might have been the carrier of the new virus.

CHINA INC. SLOW TO REOPEN BUSINESS DOORS

Travel restrictions and quarantines imposed in response to the coronavirus epidemic in China have produced a severe shortage of workers that has blocked many factories from returning to full production, a U.S. business group said today.

A questionnaire late last week by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai that attracted responses from 109 manufacturers in or near the city in east-central China found that nearly four-fifths of them did not have enough staff to run their production lines at full capacity.

“We’ve got more and more factories getting open, but across the board, everybody is still struggling to find workers,” said Ker Gibbs, president of the chamber. He cited 14-day quarantines that many cities impose on new arrivals or returnees.

Almost two-fifths of the companies said they had trouble finding enough face masks to meet local requirements that factories provide them to their workers.

Two-thirds of the companies that chose to respond to the questionnaire had already opened operations by the end of last week, while another fifth of the companies were planning to reopen this week.

The questionnaire was sent to 612 members of the chamber, for a response rate of 18%.

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