February 20 coronavirus news

By Ben Westcott, Adam Renton and Amy Woodyatt, CNN

Updated 9:00 PM ET, Thu February 20, 2020
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10:28 p.m. ET, February 19, 2020

BREAKING: Two Diamond Princess passengers die of the coronavirus

From CNN's Junko Ogura in Tokyo

Medical staff wait outside of the Diamond Princess cruise ship at Daikoku Pier in Yokohama, Japan, on February 7.
Medical staff wait outside of the Diamond Princess cruise ship at Daikoku Pier in Yokohama, Japan, on February 7. Carl Court/Getty Images

Japan's health ministry has just confirmed that two passengers of the Diamond Princess cruise ship have died from novel coronavirus today.

Both of them were in their 80s, although their identity and gender is not known at this time. More details are expected to be released later.

It comes as passengers from the ship who have tested negative have begun to leave after two weeks of quarantine aboard.

A total of 624 cases of the coronavirus have been found on board the ship so far.

10:16 p.m. ET, February 19, 2020

If you're just joining us, here is the latest on the coronavirus outbreak

A nurse prepares medicines for patients at Jinyintan Hospital designated for new coronavirus infected patients, in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on Sunday, February 16.
A nurse prepares medicines for patients at Jinyintan Hospital designated for new coronavirus infected patients, in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on Sunday, February 16. Chinatopix via AP

Hubei, the Chinese province at the center of the novel coronavirus outbreak, announced 349 new cases today, the lowest daily number of infections officially recorded by China in weeks.

Chinese state media is adopting a positive stance on the fall in new infections today, but it remains too early to predict the end of the current outbreak, Dr. Mike Ryan, World Health Organization executive director of health emergencies program, said during a news conference on Wednesday.

The news of a fall in infections in China comes amid a spikes in cases in other Asian countries, notably South Korea, Singapore and Japan.

Here's the latest:

Infections drop in virus epicenter: Confirmed cases in mainland China increased by 394, according to the country's National Health Commission. Only 45 of those new cases were outside of Hubei, according to the NHC's official figures.

The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China is now 74,576, bringing the global total to 75,674.

Death toll rises: The number of people killed by the virus continues to rise, with 114 more deaths announced in mainland China today. In total, the global death toll is now 2,126.

South Korea infections jump: There are now 82 cases of the deadly coronavirus in South Korea, the government reported today, after a jump of 31 additional cases overnight. Many of the new infections went to the same church as a previous confirmed patient.

Diamond Princess passengers departing: Large numbers of passengers are due to leave their cruise ship today after two weeks in quarantine on board. Cruise goers from Canada and Israel will be among those allowed off Thursday.

Japan's Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare has given up to 500 passengers permission to leave, a Princess Cruises spokesperson told CNN. A total of 624 cases of the coronavirus have been found on board the ship so far.

Quarantine criticism dismissed: Japan's health ministry has defended its quarantine of the Diamond Princess, saying it is repeatedly in contact with "experts from university hospitals and other institutions" on how to handle the cruise ship.

It came after a viral YouTube video made by Professor Kentaro Iwata criticized the government's handling of the situation, implying the virus was out of control onboard.

Scientists slam conspiracy theories: A group of scientists from around the world have come together to denounce rumors that the coronavirus originated in a Chinese laboratory, rather than naturally in animals.

"(We) overwhelmingly conclude that this coronavirus originated in wildlife, as have so many other emerging pathogens," 27 study authors said in a statement published Wednesday in medical journal The Lancet.

9:55 p.m. ET, February 19, 2020

China cuts key lending rate as it battles coronavirus

From CNN Business's Laura He

China has cut a key lending rate today as the country tries to shore up the economy and thwart long-term damage from the coronavirus outbreak.

The People’s Bank of China cut its one-year loan prime rate (LPR) to 4.05% from 4.15%. It also lowered its five-year rate to 4.75% from 4.8%.

The LPR, which banks charge corporate clients for new loans, is a new benchmark that China introduced in August. Thursday’s cuts were widely expected -- the economy has been slowing down and the coronavirus has been damaging to business this year. 

Billions in losses: China’s central bank will likely keep loosening its purse strings in the coming weeks, according to analysts at Capital Economics. They pointed out that the coronavirus has started to weigh on employment. 

“But rate cuts alone will provide limited relief to the millions of small private firms that are suffering the most from the epidemic and are poorly served by the formal banking,” the analysts added.

Some analysts and state-run media have already said that the coronavirus fallout could cost the Chinese economy a few percentage points of growth. In dollar terms, that could lose the country more than $60 billion.

9:15 p.m. ET, February 19, 2020

Diamond Princess passengers from Canada and Israel due to disembark from the ship 

From CNN's Paula Newton in Toronto and Sandi Sidhu in Japan

Buses carrying passengers who disembarked the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship and emergency vehicles at the Daikoku Pier on February 19, 2020 in Yokohama, Japan.
Buses carrying passengers who disembarked the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship and emergency vehicles at the Daikoku Pier on February 19, 2020 in Yokohama, Japan. Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

The steady departure of passengers from the stricken Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan is expected to continue today.

Passengers who have completed quarantine aboard the ship will be allowed to disembark, with citizens of Canada and Israel among those expected to leave. 

Diamond Princess captain Stefano Ravera announced that the process of disembarking passengers will begin at 10:30 a.m. local time.

He said passengers from Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan would also be leaving.

A total of 624 cases of the novel coronavirus are linked to the ship.

Canadian passengers test positive: But not all the Canadian cruise goers will be heading home. According to Canada's Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, 47 out of the 256 Canadians onboard have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Even Canadian citizens who tested negative will be required to undergo another medical screening upon their arrival back in Canada.

If they're healthy they'll be taken to Cornwall, Ontario, for another 14 days of quarantine.

9:33 p.m. ET, February 19, 2020

Global death toll from coronavirus exceeds 2,100

From CNN’s Steven Jiang, Shanshan Wang and Larry Register

Medical workers move a person who died from COVID-19 at a hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on Sunday, February 16.
Medical workers move a person who died from COVID-19 at a hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province on Sunday, February 16. Chinatopix via AP

More than 2,100 people have died from the novel coronavirus across the globe, according to the latest figures released on Wednesday.

The Hubei health authority reported that 108 more people died of the coronavirus in Hubei province on Wednesday, raising the death toll in the epicenter since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak to 2,029. The Hubei report brings the total number of deaths in mainland China to at least 2,112.

The global death toll from coronavirus has risen to at least 2,120, with eight deaths reported outside of mainland China. Hong Kong and Iran have each reported two deaths from coronavirus. Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines and France have each reported one death. 

The global number of confirmed coronavirus cases now exceeds 76,262, with the vast majority of cases in mainland China.

China’s National Health Commission is expected to release numbers for all of China’s provinces later.