Published17 FEBRUARY, 2020UPDATED 17 FEBRUARY, 2020
PHNOM PENH (Cambodia) — A scramble intensified Monday (Feb 17) to trace passengers from a US cruise liner allowed to disembark in Cambodia despite at least one traveller later being diagnosed with the deadly coronavirus.
There are fears scores of cruise goers have been scattered across the world without full health checks — as Cambodia on Monday afternoon treated a few dozen of the passengers to bus tours around the capital Phnom Penh.
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Passenger Christina Kerby, whose drole tweets as the Westerdam was bounced across ports drew widespread attention, admitted she “was surprised” to be allowed on a tour of the Cambodian capital before being given the complete all-clear from the virus.
“I have young kids back home (in the US) and wouldn’t want to risk infecting them or anyone around me if I am carrying the virus,” she told AFP.
The Westerdam was at sea for two weeks during which it was barred from Japan, Guam, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Thailand over fears it could be carrying the virus, which originated in China and has killed nearly 1,800 people.
On Thursday Cambodia, a staunch ally of Beijing, allowed the ship to dock at Sihanoukville.
It was met by the kingdom’s bombastic premier, who hugged disembarking passengers as he swiftly latched on to the Westerdam’s PR potential for a nation more often in the spotlight for human rights abuses.
His stance won applause from US President Donald Trump.
But three days later one Westerdam passenger, an 83-year-old American, was stopped on arrival in Malaysia and later diagnosed with the Covid-19 coronavirus.
On Monday, Malaysia said over 130 other passengers who also took the flight with the sick American women left for the US, Europe and Australia and Hong Kong.
Thailand, a flight hub already used by scores of the Westerdam passengers, on Monday mulled a ban on transit by cruise goers, as the region played catch up to the risks posed by the boat.
“Passengers on ship are at risk and travel by airplane will cause risk to other passengers,” health minister Anutin Charnvirakul said Monday.
Cruise operator Holland America is working with national health authorities “to investigate and follow up with individuals who may have come in contact with the guest”, chief medical officier Dr Grant Tarling said late Sunday.
Yet health risks appeared secondary to authorities in Cambodia, a poor country with a threadbare medical system.
On Monday afternoon, passengers waiting for onward flights were gifted the bus tour of Phnom Penh.
Photos in government-aligned media showed them smiling, giving thumbs ups and none with a mask on.
“There were tons of media lining the street” Ms Kerby said, adding she “was not expecting such a showing”.
Another 233 passengers and 747 crew remain on the Westerdam, which is still docked at Sihanoukville.
Authorities have been allowing them to leave the vessel in groups based on their flight bookings but those on board told AFP they are now not permitted to disembark.
A Sihanoukville spokesman said Monday health samples are being collected from all onboard the Westerdam “in order to be clear”, adding that passengers will not go off-ship until the tests are completed.
China’s foreign minister Wang Yi will meet Southeast Asian counterparts in late Laos this week to discuss the unprecedented health crisis, which has battered manufacturing and tourism across the region and led to an array of travel restrictions.
In China more than 70,000 people have been infected with the coronavirus while about 780 infections have been reported in other countries. AFP
SINGAPORE – Two Singaporeans from the MS Westerdam, which was allowed to dock at the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville after nearly two weeks at sea, have been quarantined in Singapore but no other passengers will be allowed in.
“Two passengers are serving quarantine in a government quarantine facility. We are not allowing anymore passengers from the Westerdam to come into Singapore, or transit through Singapore,” Mr Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force dealing with the current coronavirus outbreak, told reporters on Monday (Feb 17).
Experts currently fear the passengers of the ship could be source of a global outbreak after Malaysia said an American woman from the ship who arrived in Kuala Lumpur on a chartered flight had tested positive for the coronavirus.
The MS Westerdam, which left Hong Kong on Feb 1 for a 14-day cruise, spent nearly two weeks at sea after being turned away from at least five ports.
The ship, carrying more than 2,000 passengers and crew members, received permission to dock at the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville on Feb 13. Passengers had been cleared to travel by Cambodian authorities after health checks.
Asked whether the ship had requested to dock in Singapore, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore on Thursday (Feb 13) referred The Straits Times to Holland America’s statement on the MS Westerdam receiving clearance from Cambodian authorities to disembark in Sihanoukville. Marina Bay Cruise Centre, where the ship departed from on Jan 16, did not respond to queries on the same question.
The Singapore Tourism Board said on Thursday (Feb 13) that while Singapore’s cruise terminals remain open, arriving ships must meet Singapore’s entry requirements.
Foreign travellers who had visited mainland China within 14 days have not been allowed entry into or transit through Singapore since Feb 1.
Coronavirus: Cruise ship travellers head home, fuelling contagion fears after US woman tests positive
HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG, NYTIMES) – More than 3,000 travellers on two coronavirus-stricken Carnival Corp cruise ships are returning home, fanning out to more than 40 countries and fuelling fears of further contagion from the deadly virus.
The United States on Monday (Feb 17) began evacuating its citizens from the Diamond Princess off Yokohama, Japan, where 70 new cases of the virus were confirmed over the weekend. Canada, Hong Kong and other countries are also planning similar evacuations of hundreds.
Last Saturday, an 83-year-old American woman tested positive in Malaysia, a day after she and more than 2,200 others were cleared to leave the Westerdam cruise ship in Cambodia. The ship arrived there after being turned away by five other ports.
This woman was on the boat and was infected for a few days – she could have potentially exposed other people on the boat who have now gone home,” said Dr Stanley Deresinski, a Stanford University professor and infectious disease specialist at the university hospital.
“There’s a possibility that anyone who is infected and asymptomatic could start a chain of infection wherever they return to,” he added.
“Cruise ships are very high-risk for transmission of illnesses,” said Prof Jean-Paul Rodrigue, a professor of transport geography at Hofstra University in New York. “People are circulating all over, you’re using the same corridors, touching the same handles and railings. It’s easy to catch something.”
The Westerdam spent two weeks in limbo before Cambodia permitted the ship to berth last Thursday. Passengers were allowed to leave the next day without a quarantine, and the American woman then travelled to Kuala Lumpur to seek a flight back to the US.
All but the American woman and her husband were eventually allowed to continue to their destinations, including airports in the US, the Netherlands and Australia.
Malaysia has since said it won’t allow any more travellers from the Westerdam to transit through the country, causing the cancellation of three charter flights to shuttle passengers out of Cambodia.Related Story
Health experts are raising alarm about the Westerdam passengers after their release without a quarantine order at a time when the death toll from the disease has topped 1,700 globally. Most countries planning evacuations of those on the Diamond Princess in Japan have also announced plans for quarantines upon return.
Westerdam passengers should at minimum be monitored by local health authorities and quarantine themselves, Prof Deresinski and other health experts said.
The authorities could also consider testing returning travellers from the ship if feasible, he added. “It doesn’t require prolonged exposure to be infected.”
The incubation guideline for coronavirus is two weeks – nearly the entire time the ship was at sea after departing Hong Kong on Feb 1 and becoming a floating pariah.
Because the ship was at sea for the required 14-day quarantine, passengers are free to travel after they leave the ship, a US State Department spokesman said. Holland America Line – owned by Miami-based cruising giant Carnival – has maintained there was no known case of the disease during the voyage.
Knowing when the American woman was infected and by whom is key to determine the risk that other passengers may come down with the virus.
“I don’t know enough about this patient to know if it is possible they were infected prior to boarding, and had a long incubation period,” said Prof Ben Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at Hong Kong University.
“Perhaps it is more likely that they were infected on board, which suggests that there was at least one other case on board i.e. the person who infected them.”
The US doesn’t have “sufficient evidence” to determine when she may have been exposed or where, said the State Department spokesman.
KUALA LUMPUR: The Health Ministry insisted Sunday it had correctly diagnosed coronavirus in an elderly American woman from the Westerdam cruise ship despite all passengers having been given a clean bill of health when they disembarked in Cambodia.
The vessel was at sea for two weeks and barred from Japan, Guam, the Philippines, Taiwan and Thailand over fears it might be carrying the virus which originated in China and has killed more than 1,600 people.
Cambodia – a staunch ally of Beijing – allowed the ship to dock Thursday in Sihanoukville, administering health tests before passengers disembarked in waves for homeward-bound flights.
But jubilation dimmed late Saturday, as one of the passengers was stopped by authorities in Malaysia when she was detected with a fever and was later diagnosed with the virus.
Now fears are mounting that more of the 2,200 passengers and crew who disembarked may have been infected.
Cambodia urged Kuala Lumpur on Sunday to “double-check” the diagnosis, but Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail (pix) said the 83-year-old American woman had already been tested twice.
“Our protocol is actually world-class … it’s a positive,“ she told a press conference.
She said the US embassy had chartered four Malaysian Airlines planes to fly some of Westerdam’s passengers to Kuala Lumpur, but later a government statement officially corrected her account, saying it was the cruise ship operators who had hired the aircraft.
After the discovery of the infected woman on the first plane carrying 143 passengers, the other flights were cancelled.
Onboard the Westerdam – where more than 200 passengers remain along with 747 crew members – the mood has turned “sombre”, said Lorraine Oliveira, who lives in Britain.
“Guests are very anxious on board since finding out someone tested positive,“ she told AFP.
“We were (so) close to getting home and now we’re back in limbo.”
Cambodia’s decision to allow the Westerdam to berth was lauded by US President Donald Trump, who called the country “beautiful” on Twitter, while US ambassador Patrick Murphy boarded the ship to greet its American passengers. — AFP
Scramble to track Cambodia ship passengers after Malaysia Covid-19 case
By Reuters – February 17, 2020 @ 11:33am
SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia: Holland America Line said it is working with governments and health experts to track passengers who disembarked from its Westerdam cruise ship docked in Cambodia after an American woman tested positive for Covid-19 coronavirus in Malaysia.
The cruise line, which is owned by cruise giant Carnival Corp, said none of the other 1,454 passengers and 802 crew have reported any symptoms.
“Guests who have already returned home will be contacted by their local health department and be provided further information,” a statement from the company said.
Passengers had been cleared to travel by Cambodian authorities after health checks when the cruise ship docked on Thursday. It had spent two weeks at sea after being turned away by Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines and Thailand.
But on Saturday, Malaysia said an American woman who arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Friday on a chartered flight had tested positive for the new coronavirus that has killed more than 1,700 people, the vast majority in China.
The woman’s husband tested negative for the coronavirus.
About 137 of the 145 passengers on the chartered flight had already left for other countries as of Sunday after showing no signs of illness, Malaysian authorities said.
Dozens more of the Westerdam passengers had flown through Thailand and onward to other countries, Thai officials said.
At least 236 passengers and 747 crew remain aboard the vessel off the Cambodian port city of Sihanoukville, Holland America said. Others were in hotels in Phnom Penh, the capital.
Holland America said it is working with health officials in Malaysia and Cambodia and experts in the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
“These experts are working with the appropriate national health authorities to investigate and follow-up with individuals who may have come in contact with the guest,” said Dr Grant Tarling, Chief Medical Officer for Holland America Line.
Several hundred other passengers who left the ship are still in Cambodia, according to passenger Holley Rauen, a public health nurse and midwife from Fort Myers, Florida. “I believe there’s 300 Americans here at this hotel plus a few hundred from other countries. We will all be tested for the coronavirus today and tomorrow by the Cambodian Ministry of Health,” Rauen told Reuters on Sunday.
“We have no idea when we get to get home but Holland America is working on all of our flight reservations. We have ambassadors from the US Embassy here in Phnom Penh as well as from Australia and other countries to help people figure out what to do,” she said. – Reuters
Will their joy turn to sorrow?