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THURSDAY, Feb. 20, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- The number of new COVID-19 coronavirus cases in China dropped Thursday, but the decline might just be due to new methods in how case numbers are tallied.
Also on Thursday, two infected passengers from the Diamond Princess cruise ship that had been quarantined in Japan died.
The decline in Chinese cases was due in part to Chinese health officials again changing how they tally infections. Now, they are discounting patients whose lab tests come back negative and they are refining how they first assess sick patients, the Associated Press reported.
Under the new system, 394 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed Thursday while 279 were discounted, the wire service said. There have now been a total of 74,576 cases and 2,118 deaths in mainland China.
The two cruise ship passengers who died were an elderly Japanese couple who had been hospitalized during the quarantine, the AP reported. The ship's quarantine ended Wednesday.
Among the 400 Americans who were on board that same cruise ship, roughly 300 Americans were evacuated over the weekend and are under quarantine in the United States. At least 14 of those evacuees have tested positive for the new COVID-19 virus.
More than 100 American passengers remain in Japan, however, and U.S. health officials announced Tuesday that they will not be allowed to return home for at least two more weeks.
According to a statement from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, containment measures that were taken on the ship "may not have been sufficient to prevent transmission. [The] CDC believes the rate of new infections on board, especially among those without symptoms, represents an ongoing risk."
Passengers who stayed on the ship will not be allowed to return to the United States until they have been off the ship for 14 days, without any symptoms or a positive test for the virus, the agency added. The ruling also applies to Americans who are hospitalized in Japan.
In some good news, details released on nearly 45,000 cases of coronavirus in China show that 80% of cases are mild and the number of new cases has been declining for most of February.
The report, released this week by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, offers some hope that the outbreak might be abating, the AP reported.
Still, "it's too early to tell if this reported decline will continue. Every scenario is still on the table," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director of the World Health Organization, said during a media briefing Monday.
Among the cases studied in the Chinese report, 14% developed pneumonia and 5% developed critical illness. The fatality rate has been 2.3% -- 2.8% for males and 1.7% for females.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus outbreak -- and the global response to it -- continues to evolve globally, with three deaths now reported in Japan. The first death outside Asia was reported in France on Saturday, The New York Times reported.
Iran reported three new cases of coronavirus on Thursday. On Wednesday, the country's health minister confirmed two coronavirus deaths, the AP reported. And the first case of infection on the continent of Africa was identified on Friday, involving a person in Egypt who has tested positive for coronavirus but has so far shown no symptoms.
Adding in the 14 infected and quarantined cruise ship passengers repatriated to the United States, the current total of confirmed cases in this country now stands at 29.
Earlier this month, the United States began to bar entry to any foreigners who have recently traveled to China. U.S. citizens who have recently traveled to the Hubei province of China, where Wuhan is located, will be quarantined for up to 14 days, U.S. health officials said. U.S. citizens who have recently traveled to other parts of China will face health screenings and voluntary quarantines of up to 14 days.
The temporary entry ban applies to foreign nationals, with the exception of relatives of citizens and permanent residents.
-- E.J. Mundell and Robin Foster
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