Asia braces for more coronavirus infections as cruise ship passengers return home

People wearing face masks in Singapore’s Orchard Road. Photo: Coconuts
People wearing face masks in Singapore’s Orchard Road. Photo: Coconuts

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Singapore has jumped nearly a third to 75 while the Philippines and Hong Kong were bracing for more infections as their citizens prepared to head home from another cruise ship where hundreds have taken ill.

The Diamond Princess had been docked in Yokohama, Japan, since Feb. 3, after a previous passenger tested positive for the coronavirus in Hong Kong. A total of 355 passengers had tested positive for the virus as of Sunday, with 27 Filipinos among them. The ship, which will leave quarantine Wednesday, was originally carrying nearly 4,000 passengers and crew. 

Health officials elsewhere are concerned about hundreds of passengers heading home from a ship that were given the all-clear by Cambodian doctors only to later learn that at least one of them tested positive for the coronavirus. An American woman arriving in Malaysia from the MS Westerdam, which was refused port five times before Phom Penh granted it refuge, was found to have the disease. 

That disease, COVID-19, has infected more than 70,000, killed more than 1,700 people in China, and claimed lives in recent days in Taiwan and France. 

A taxi driver died in Taipei, while the first fatality outside of Asia involved an 80-year-old Chinese tourist in Paris.

A soldier was among Singapore’s 17 newly announced cases since Friday was also a member of the Grace Assembly of God megachurch. Faith has emerged as a vector in additional cases as well. A 79-year-old female parishioner at Bethany Presbyterian Church on Upper Paya Lebar Road was announced by the Health Ministry as among the infected. 

Singapore’s Archbishop on Friday suspended gatherings for Catholic churches amid the outbreak. 

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Singapore had 78 confirmed cases as of Monday morning since the outbreak began. The outbreak has hampered Singapore’s already slowing economy with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong telling reporters on Friday that a recession is possible. The Ministry of Trade and Industry also downgraded the country’s economic forecast today to between a contraction of 0.5% and growth of 1.5%.

As supplies of face masks continue to run out in the city-state, the government has been dissuading the people from wearing them unless they are feeling unwell in favor of cleaning their hands as often as possible — leading to a spike in demand for hand sanitizer, with hundreds queuing for hours at a warehouse in Tuas selling 5-liter bottles for just S$30. A video of the long, snaking line has been watched more than 30,000 times on Facebook.

Hand sanitizer meant for the recently concluded Singapore Airshow event were also stolen, according to a Bloomberg report. 

Malaysia

Malaysia announced more cases over the weekend, including the female American tourist who had come from the MS Westerdam cruise ship.

The surprise announcement came Saturday, a day after Cambodia said that none of the nearly 2,000 people aboard the ship had been infected. 

Malaysian Health Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said the 83-year-old patient was among 145 passengers who flew to Malaysia. She was with her husband, an 85-year-old man, who also showed symptoms but tested negative for the virus. His health is being monitored. 

Everyone from the ship was allowed to return to their respective countries of origin after preliminary tests in Cambodia showed they tested negative for COVID-19.

A total of 22 people in Malaysia have been identified as infected. Two more cases were announced over the weekend involving Chinese nationals. One of them was a 27-year-old businessman who arrived Feb. 1, flew to Thailand Feb. 12 and then returned to Malaysia the next day. 

The other Chinese national was a 32-year-old woman married to a Malaysian. 

Indonesia

Despite frequent protests that Indonesia is free of the coronavirus, fears are growing as a student showing symptoms since returned from Malaysia. 

The family of the 19-year-old university student has reportedly been barred from visiting the patient at the hospital, who has been held in isolation since Wednesday. 

The unnamed student had complained of fever and difficulty breathing after returning from Malaysia on Feb. 7, the Jakarta Post reported. 

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Meanwhile, Indonesia’s national carrier assured flyers on Friday that all of its aircraft have been disinfected since the outbreak began two months ago. 

Garuda Indonesia, which serves flights to China, issued a statement after an announcement from the Chinese province of Anhui announced an infected person with recent travel history to Bali.

The Chinese patient had boarded the airline’s flight GA858 from Bali to Shanghai on Jan. 28.

Manila

More than 500 Filipino crew members who were quarantined aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Yokohama will have to be quarantined further when they return home. Filipino authorities are searching for a new quarantine zone to house them or may squeeze them into the current zone in New Clark City. 

A total of 27 Filipinos on the ship had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Thursday. 

Coronavirus-infected Filipinos in Japanese cruise ship Diamond Princess now at 27

The Philippines had been investigating hundreds of suspect cases in the country, including the 422 people who tested negative, and was awaiting the results of another 24 tests as of Monday morning. 

A person under evaluation died Friday while being confined in a hospital. The 71-year-old had recently traveled to Taiwan and had tested negative for COVID-19 there. 

The Philippines has now removed Taiwan from its travel ban on travelers from China after Taipei objected angrily to being recognized as part of China. 

Hong Kong

Around 330 Hong Kong residents aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan are expected to fly home after quarantine expires Wednesday. City authorities announced late Saturday that a chartered flight would be sent to pick them up. 

Hong Kong had 57 confirmed cases of the infection as of Monday morning and continues to grapple with the shortage of face masks and protestors unhappy that places are being turned into quarantine zones. 

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About 100 demonstrators protested for a second day in the rain yesterday at the New Territories district of Fo Tan. A newly built residential development there could be used as a quarantine center. 

Meanwhile, Hong Kong Disneyland has offered space to be used for quarantine.

Thailand

Thailand reported its 34th infection yesterday involving a 35-year-old Thai medical worker who reportedly contracted the disease from a patient. 

Thailand also saw the arrival of 35 MS Westerdam cruise passengers at Suvarnabhumi Airport yesterday. Among them were two Thai nationals who had no sign of the coronavirus, Public Health Ministry spokesman Rungrueng Kitphati told reporters.

Related:

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