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Quarantined Passengers Leave Coronavirus-Hit Ship

Tourists quarantined on the Diamond Princess cruise ship get some fresh air on the top deck of the ship, Feb. 13, 2020, in Yokohama, near Tokyo.

Hundreds of passengers have begun leaving the cruise ship that has been quarantined for two weeks at a Japanese port in a futile attempt to curb the spread of the new coronavirus that has claimed the lives of over 2,000 people in mainland China.

Around 500 relieved passengers are expected to disembark the Diamond Princess Wednesday at Yokohama, where it has been docked since its arrival on February 3. Japanese health officials placed the ship and its 3,700 passengers and crew under quarantine after a passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong was diagnosed with COVID-19.

But the attempt to contain the spread of the virus backfired, as 542 people became infected, making it the largest cluster of confirmed cases outside of China.

Only those passengers who have tested negative for the virus and have not shown any symptoms are being allowed to disembark the Diamond Princess. About 300 Americans were evacuated Monday and immediately placed in another 14-day quarantine. Several other governments, including Britain, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong, are also making plans to evacuate their citizens from Yokohama.

A bus leaves a port where the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship is docked, Feb. 15, 2020, in Yokohama, near Tokyo.
A bus leaves a port where the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship is docked, Feb. 15, 2020, in Yokohama, near Tokyo.

Over 2,000 deaths

Beijing announced earlier Wednesday that the death toll from the COVID-19 outbreak had reached 2,004 with most of the deaths reported in Hubei province, where the outbreak began in December. One hundred-32 deaths were reported in Hubei. Six people outside mainland China have died from the virus, the latest a 70-year-old man in Hong Kong who is the second fatality reported in the territory.

But the health commission reported Wednesday 1,749 newly confirmed cases - the lowest number so far in February - bringing the total number of confirmed cases in China to 74,000.

Chinese state-run media said Tuesday President Xi Jinping spoke to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson by telephone, telling him that China's measures to fight the virus is making "visible progress."

Despite the drop in the daily number of confirmed cases, the World Health Organization cautions people against relaxing and believing the worst is over. The WHO says it is still too early to predict exactly which way the outbreak will go.

“We don’t have enough data on cases outside China to make meaningful conclusions,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. He added that more than 80% of coronavirus patients "have mild disease and will recover."

25 countries affected

The coronavirus outbreak continued to wreak havoc around the world. WHO reported that outside China there are now 804 cases in 25 countries, with three deaths.

Russia said starting Thursday it would ban all Chinese from entering its territory.

Deputy prime minister for health Tatiana Golikova, said the decision was necessary "because of the worsening epidemic in China and the fact that Chinese nationals are continuing to arrive on Russian territory."