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Saturday, February 15, 2020, 16:53
Japanese man diagnosed with coronavirus after visiting Hawaii
By Reuters
Saturday, February 15, 2020, 16:53 By Reuters

Hawaii health authorities began a search on Friday for anyone who may have had close contact with a Japanese tourist who fell ill on the island of Oahu and tested positive for a new coronavirus soon after returning to his home country.

The case came to public attention at a Honolulu news conference by Governor David Ige and senior state health officials, who said the man in question is believed to have become infected in Japan before embarking on his trip, or while en route to Hawaii.

That assumption is based on the 14-day incubation period of the virus, and the fact that the man became symptomatic after less than a week in Hawaii, the state health officials said.

We do believe that this is a serious concern, and I want to assure you that this scenario is exactly what we’ve been preparing for and are prepared for

David Ige, Governor of Hawaii

The patient and his wife visited the island of Maui from Jan 28 to Feb 3, then traveled to Oahu, where they stayed until flying on Feb 7 back to their home in the Aichi Prefecture of central Japan, the officials said.

The man had exhibited no sign of illness until reaching Oahu, where he first developed cold-like respiratory symptoms but no fever, the state’s health direct, Dr Bruce Anderson, told reporters.

Once back in Japan, he became more seriously ill and was tested for the coronavirus after going to a hospital, Anderson said.

Hawaii officials were notified through the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday, and state authorities in turn alerted local health providers to be on the lookout for coronavirus-like illnesses.

“We do believe that this is a serious concern, and I want to assure you that this scenario is exactly what we’ve been preparing for and are prepared for,” the governor said.

The greatest immediate focus is to identify and track down individuals who had “prolonged, face-to-face contacts” with the Japanese man after he began showing symptoms on Oahu, said Dr Sarah Park, the state’s chief epidemiologist.

Based on what is known about transmission of the disease, the patient was unlikely to have been contagious while on Maui because he was asymptomatic then, and anyone who had fleeting, incidental contact with him after he became ill, such as passing him in a hallway, would be considered at low risk, Park said.

READ MORE: Abe to spend US$94m to fight virus as Japan reports 1st death

The man’s apparent lack of fever while in Hawaii also bodes well because infected individuals are believed to be most contagious when feverish, she said.

The man’s precise travel itinerary remained unclear, except that he stayed at a Hilton Grand Vacations time-share condo in the Waikiki section of Honolulu, Anderson said, adding that he only sought medical care upon returning to Japan.

State health officials said they were consulting Japanese authorities to get more details of his Hawaii visit.

Hawaii, the US Pacific island state closest to the origin of the coronavirus outbreak, has seen no infections documented on its soil, while the number of US cases confirmed nationwide stands at 15, none fatal. Eight cases are in California.

Photo taken on Feb 6, 2020 shows the Diamond Princess, a cruise ship which has been kept in quarantine, waiting for supplies at the port of Yokohama in Japan. (KYODO NEWS VIA XINHUA)

US to evacuate citizens from Diamond Princess

Meanwhile, the US will evacuate its citizens on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Japan, according to a statement on the American embassy in Japan’s website.

The US Department of State will provide chartered aircraft to bring American passengers and crew back to the US.

The aircraft will arrive on the evening of Feb 16 and will transport the passengers first to Travis Air Force Base in California, and some may be moved to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. They will undergo a two-week quarantine

The aircraft will arrive on the evening of Feb 16 and will transport the passengers first to Travis Air Force Base in California, and some may be moved to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. They will undergo a two-week quarantine.

As of Thursday, there were 218 infections aboard Carnival Corp.’s Diamond Princess. The surging numbers are fueling concerns that rather than keeping passengers safe, the quarantine is allowing the virus to spread through the ship.

Some 3,500 people on the Diamond Princess are being kept in quarantine, about 200 of them aged over 80.

ALSO READ: Quarantine officer infected as Japan cruise ship cases hit 175

Japan has been preparing to allow certain passengers to start disembarking the ship, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told reporters Friday. About 40 people in Japan now have the virus, with local authorities in the western prefecture of Wakayama announcing three more on Saturday.

With Bloomberg inputs

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