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Last month, news outlets across the world reported on the Chinese coronavirus outbreak and wondered whether this new virus would become the next global pandemic. As February nears its end, coronavirus has yet to become anywhere close to as common as the flu – with which it shares many symptoms – in the U.S. Many of the most recent headlines about coronavirus have centered on neither the U.S. nor China, but instead, the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
Earlier this month, officials quarantined several cruise ships including the Diamond Princess in an effort to curtail the spread of coronavirus. Cruise ships can accelerate the transmission of viruses between people since they gather large numbers of people in an isolated, artificially ventilated space, and so far, the Diamond Princess has experienced a larger number of coronavirus cases than any other cruise ship. As of February 18, 542 of the 3,711 people quarantined on the ship have tested positive for coronavirus. This means that the Diamond Princess is home to more coronavirus patients than any location outside China.
This massive rate of coronavirus infection may be attributable to initial quarantine efforts, which a leading public health expert has told journalists was a smart move. This same official has openly admitted, however, that the quarantine failed. It remains unclear how the quarantine failed.
Despite the dire state of coronavirus transmissions aboard the Diamond Princess, the U.S. has begun flying American cruise ship passengers back to America. On February 17, the U.S. flew over 300 Americans back to their homeland, where they will undergo two more weeks of quarantine at U.S. military bases. Prior to their flights back to the U.S., these Americans were under two weeks of quarantine in Japan. So far, 14 people in this group have tested positive for coronavirus. An additional 260 American cruise ship passengers remain stranded abroad, with 60 still in Japan and another 200 in Cambodia, including 92 on another cruise ship.
In Japan, experts are beginning trials to treat coronavirus with HIV medication. These trials follow news from Thailand that, there, some patients have been successfully treated for coronavirus using a combination of HIV medication and standard flu treatments. At the moment, there is no known vaccine or cure for coronavirus.
Currently, coronavirus has claimed the lives of 1,868 people living in mainland China, where 72,436 people have been infected with the virus. China has imposed travel limits on 780 million of its citizens – just under half of the country’s population – in an attempt to curtail the spread of the virus. So far, the virus has barely spread to other regions, as the global total of coronavirus cases is 73,332, only slightly more than the number of Chinese cases.
In the U.S., only 29 confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported to date, and 14 of these cases are the Americans recently flown back from Japan. These Americans are not yet showing coronavirus symptoms, which resemble the combination of standard flu symptoms and difficulty breathing. Experts advise people experiencing these symptoms to err on the side of caution and visit an emergency room if they feel ill.