With thousands of passengers and crew on two cruise ships in Asian waters placed in quarantine for China’s coronavirus on Wednesday, airlines and other global tourism businesses are counting the cost of the fast-spreading outbreak.

Hundreds of experts will gather in Geneva next week, on Feb. 11-12, in an attempt to find a way to fight back against the outbreak by speeding research into drugs and vaccines, the World Health Organization (WHO) said. A multinational WHO-led team would go to China “very soon”, it added.

It stressed no known effective treatment existed to combat the virus, dismissing various reports of “drug breakthroughs”.

China said another 65 people had died in the previous 24 hours, in the highest daily total yet, taking the overall toll on the mainland to 490, most in and around the locked-down central city of Wuhan, where the new virus emerged late last year.

There have been two deaths outside mainland China – in the Philippines and Hong Kong – both following visits to Wuhan.

The virus had disrupted air travel, with more than two dozen airlines suspending or restricting flights to China and several countries, including the United States, banning the entry of anyone who has been in China over the previous two weeks.

Hong Kong said all visitors from mainland China would be quarantined for two weeks, while Taiwan banned the entry of mainland residents from Thursday.


Medical staff aside from the Diamond Princess in Yokohama, Japan. Pic: Reuters

The disruption spread to cruise ships this week, with about 3,700 people facing at least two weeks cut off aboard a liner anchored off Japan after health officials confirmed ten passengers had tested positive for the virus.

Passengers on the Diamond Princess posted pictures online of officials in masks and gowns conducting health checks and an empty deck.

“This is not a good situation,” British passenger David Abel said in a video shot in his cabin and posted to Facebook.

READ: CORONAVIRUS: Royal Caribbean Cancels Cruises & More Flight Suspensions

In Hong Kong, 3,600 passengers and crew were confined to their ship docked in the city for tests after three people on board had tested positive earlier.

Cathay Pacific

Pic: Reuters

Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways asked its 27,000 employees to take three weeks of unpaid leave, saying conditions were as grave now as during the 2009 financial crisis.

READ: CORONAVIRUS: 27,000 Cathay Pacific Employees Asked To Take Unpaid Leave

American Airlines Group and United Airlines said they would suspend flights to and from Hong Kong after this week, a step that would leave no U.S. carriers flying passengers to the Asian financial hub.

Source: Reuters