[9News] US passengers disembark from coronavirus cruise ship as China claims new virus cases are slowing down
US passengers have disembarked from a cruise ship off Japan to fly home after two weeks in quarantine, as China says its measures have at last slowed the spread of the coronavirus .
After being held on board the Diamond Princess since February 3, American passengers were told to get ready for evening charter flights home from the ship on Sunday (local time).
Passengers wearing masks could later be seen waving through the windows of buses parked near the ship.
Canadian, Italian, South Korean and Hong Kong passengers were expected to follow, after their governments also announced plans to repatriate passengers.
Within China, authorities reported 2009 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, down from more than 2600 new cases the previous day.
The new cases brought the total infections to 68,500 in mainland China, with 1665 deaths, including 143 reported on Sunday.
Outside China, more than 500 cases have been confirmed, mostly of people who travelled from Chinese cities, with five deaths.
Chinese Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng said the slowing rate of new cases was proof that curbs on travel and other drastic measures were having an impact at last.
"The effect of the coronavirus controls is appearing," Mr Mi told reporters.
Mr Mi said the proportion of confirmed cases who were critically ill had fallen to 21.6 percent on Saturday, from 32.4 percent on January 27.
He said this showed that the authorities were able to treat patients more quickly, preventing cases from becoming critical.
Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at Britain's University of Edinburgh, said if the numbers suggested the epidemic has peaked in Hubei, "then this would be encouraging news for the rest of the world too".
"We should be cautious though; it could simply be that reporting is not keeping up with events in circumstances where the health services are under enormous pressure," he said.
Declining numbers of reported new infections could mean that the virus was being contained, but could also mean it was simply running out of susceptible new hosts in Wuhan, he added.
The coronavirus, thought to have emerged at a wildlife market in the central province of Hubei, has presented the ruling Communist Party with a huge challenge.
Its response has included putting Hubei and its capital Wuhan - a city of 11 million people - on virtual lockdown.
Restrictions were tightened further in Hubei on Sunday with vehicles, apart from essential services, banned from the roads and companies told to stay shut until further notice.
After an extended Lunar New Year holiday, China urgently needs to get back to work.
But in some cities streets are still deserted. Many factories have yet to re-open, disrupting supply chains in China and beyond.
Seventy new cases were confirmed on board the Diamond Princess, bringing the total on the ship to 355.
International health officials say they have no way of knowing yet how far the epidemic is going to spread.
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