China removes party chief of virus epicentre province
Beijing: China has sacked the top political leader of virus-stricken Hubei province, the epicentre of an epidemic that has killed 1,355, state media reported Thursday.
Jiang Chaoliang, Hubei's party secretary, will be replaced by Shanghai mayor Ying Yong, according to the official Xinhua news agency, which gave no additional details. Jiang's removal comes after Hubei's two most senior health officials were sacked Monday amid growing criticism of how local officials have handled the crisis.
The province reported a dramatic spike in confirmed virus cases Thursday, raising the total number of nationwide infections to nearly 60,000 after Hubei authorities changed the way they count infections. The virus is believed to have originated late last year at a seafood market in Hubei province's capital Wuhan. Pressure on local officials for their perceived incompetence has mounted particularly after the death last week of a Chinese doctor who was punished by Wuhan authorities for raising the alarm about the new virus.
Wuhan authorities also faced criticism in January for going ahead with an annual public banquet for 40,000 families just days before the city was placed on
lockdown. Meanwhile, Japan said Thursday it would allow some elderly passengers off a quarantined cruise ship and into government-designated lodging, as the number of new coronavirus cases on the vessel jumped to 218.
Thousands of passengers and crew on the Diamond Princess -- the single largest cluster of infected people outside China -- face several days more of quarantine, with many taking to social media to voice their concerns.
Those working on the ship have been reluctant to speak to reporters for fear of losing their jobs, but two crew members broke their silence in a video broadcast by Indian media Thursday. "The situation on board is getting worse day by day," 24-year-old ship security officer Sonali Thakkar said. "This morning they told us that 44 people have been infected and everyone is really scared and wanting to get off as soon as possible," she added.
"All we want is tests to be done and to be separated from those who are positive. We don't want to stay on board." With passengers mostly confined to their cabins, crew members have to go door-to-door to deliver food and other supplies, and some fear this has reduced the effectiveness of the quarantine.
Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said Thursday there were 44 new cases -- including one crew member -- from an additional 221 tests.
He said also that some elderly passengers would be allowed off the ship if they test negative for the COVID-19 virus.
Those who opt to leave will be moved to government facilities to wait out a quarantine that is set to last until February 19.
"If they test negative, those who wish to disembark can go and live in a lodging facility that the government will prepare," Kato said.
The captain informed the passengers of the new plan via ship broadcast.
"The Ministry of Health has already tested guests 80 years or older who are staying in a cabin without a balcony, and those 80 years or older with chronic medical conditions," he said.
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