Coronavirus: Two AIPAC attendees test positive as US cases rise

Number of cases in the US climbs to 288 with 23 states affected

epa08265639 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC, USA, 02 March 2020. AIPAC is an American pro-Israel lobby group.  EPA/ERIK S. LESSER
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The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) announced on Friday that two attendees from its annual conference, where US Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke, have tested positive for coronavirus.

In a statement issued on Friday evening, AIPAC said: “We have confirmed at least two Policy Conference attendees from New York have tested positive for coronavirus.”

The conference took place in Washington between last Sunday and Tuesday. According to the lobby group’s website more than 18,000 people were expected to attend gathering.

Mr Pence and Mr Pompeo were among several high level dignitaries who addressed the conference. Acting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the crowd via video conference.

The AIPAC announcement comes as cases in the US surpassed 280 on Friday, according to the health authorities.

Mr Pence, who has been placed in charge of the US government's handling of the crisis, confirmed on Friday that 21 of the 46 people tested on board the Grand Princess cruise ship are infected with Covid-19.

More than 3,500 are believed to remain stuck on board the ship, which is now being held near San Francisco.

US President Donald Trump argued for keeping the passengers confined to the ship on Friday.

During a visit to the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Mr Trump said: “I don’t need to have the [coronavirus] numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault, and wasn’t the fault of the people on the ship…I’d rather have the people stay on, personally.”

But Mr Pence told reporters that the plan is to bring the ship to a “non-commercial port” for testing and quarantine if necessary.

Almost half of US states have now confirmed cases of Covid-19, with Washington and California reporting most cases.

The death toll had reached 14 by Friday, and the CDC has raised the alert level warning citizens going to China, South Korea, Italy and Iran.