HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong reported its second death from the new coronavirus on Wednesday as authorities drew up plans to fly home hundreds of city residents stranded on a virus-stricken cruise ship in Japan.
The 70-year-old man who died had underlying illnesses and was one of 62 confirmed cases in the Chinese-ruled city, a Princess Margaret Hospital spokeswoman said.
In addition to those cases, 52 Hong Kong residents have tested positive for the coronavirus on the cruise ship Diamond Princess in Japan. There are 352 Hong Kong residents on the ship.
The ship has been quarantined in the port of Yokohama since Feb. 3 after a man, who disembarked in Hong Kong before it traveled to Japan, was diagnosed with the virus.
More than 540 people have tested positive for the virus on the liner – the biggest concentration of infected people outside China.
Speaking in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, Security Secretary John Lee said 200 out of the 352 Hong Kong residents on the ship, which is operated by Carnival Corp, were willing to take free, government charter flights home.
The government was trying to convince the rest to board the flights, he said. Those coming back would be required to undergo 14 days of quarantine upon arrival.
“We’ve urged the Japanese government to prioritize our cases,” Lee said.
“We wouldn’t rule out the possibility of sending more charter flights but we’ll try our best to handle all of them in one day.”
The flights are expected to return to Hong Kong on Thursday.
The United States evacuated more than 300 nationals on Monday on two chartered flights and six South Koreans and one Japanese spouse flew to South Korea on Wednesday on a chartered flight.
Australia also plans to evacuate 169 people to its northern city of Darwin, where they will be quarantined for 14 days.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has urged both Hong Kong people on the cruise ship and those at home to accept the government’s quarantine plans.
There has been opposition in some Hong Kong neighborhoods to government plans to set up quarantine centers. Hundreds of people marched in different places over the weekend to voice opposition to the proposed centers.
The crisis over the virus comes after months of anti-government demonstrations in the former British colony over the perceived erosion of freedoms by Beijing, which China denies, and the virus has opened up a new front for protesters.
In addition to the opposition to quarantine centers, many members of the public have been calling on Lam to shut the entire border with mainland China. Some medical workers have been on strike to press that demand.
But Lam has said the full closure of the border would be impractical, inappropriate and discriminatory and the government’s response to the outbreak was based on scientific advice and World Health Organization guidelines.
Reporting by Sarah Wu, Jessie Pang, Donny Kwok; writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Himani Sarkar, Robert Birsel