(LONDON) — Hundreds of Chinese inmates have been infected with the novel coronavirus as the outbreak spreads to prisons across China.
He Ping, an official at China’s Ministry of Justice, told reporters at a daily briefing Friday that officials have been fired after more than 500 cases of the newly discovered virus were diagnosed in five prisons across three Chinese provinces, including Hubei, the epicenter of the outbreak. No deaths have been reported, he said.
The first cases of the new coronavirus, known officially as COVID-19, emerged back in December in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province. Chinese authorities have since placed the city under lockdown, but containment of the illness remains a struggle.
As of Friday, China’s National Health Commission said it had received 75,465 reports of confirmed cases and 2,236 deaths on the Chinese mainland. An additional 102 confirmed infections have been reported in the special administrative regions of Hong Kong and Macao as well as Taiwan, with two deaths in Hong Kong and one in Taiwan.
China saw a significant spike in cases last week as the Health Commission of Hubei Province began counting cases without waiting for laboratory tests. But on Thursday, it went back to recording only lab-confirmed positive cases and subtracted some cases where the lab results returned negative.
Meanwhile, the virus has continued to spread overseas, with 1,073 confirmed cases in 26 other countries, including the United States. There have been eight deaths reported outside of China, bringing the worldwide death toll to 2,247, according to the World Health Organization, which has declared the outbreak a global health emergency.
COVID-19 causes symptoms similar to pneumonia, ranging from the mild, such as a slight cough, to the more severe, including fever and difficulty breathing, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is no vaccine yet for the virus.
A cruise ship quarantined in Japanese waters is the largest center of infection outside China.
The Diamond Princess docked at the Japanese port of Yokohama on Feb. 3 and was placed under quarantine two days later, as passengers and crew tested positive for COVID-19. Since then, more than 600 people on board have been infected with the disease and two have died, according to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
All those aboard the vessel who were infected have been brought ashore for treatment, while the rest were confined to their rooms until the quarantine period ends. Passengers who have tested negative for COVID-19 have been disembarking the ship since Wednesday.
Princess Cruises, which operates the cruise ship, has canceled all Diamond Princess voyages through April 20 due to the “prolonged quarantine period.” The cruise line is offering a full refund to all 2,666 guests, more than 400 of whom were from the United States.
The U.S. government evacuated more than 300 American passengers on two charter flights Monday, including 14 who had tested positive for the new coronavirus before takeoff. Roughly 60 Americans, some who were hospitalized and others who opted to stay on the ship, remain in Japan.
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