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Coronavirus: Thailand bars Holland America cruise passengers from disembarking amid fears

Thailand has barred passengers from Holland America’s cruise ship MS Westerdam from disembarking, its health minister said on Tuesday (Feb 11), the latest country to turn it away amid fears of the coronavirus despite no confirmed infections aboard. 

The Netherlands-flagged ship was sailing in a westerly direction, 96km  off the southern coast of Vietnam on Tuesday morning, according to data from the Marine Traffic ship tracking website.

Holland America, owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp, had said on Monday that passengers would disembark in Bangkok on Feb  13 and that there was no reason to believe anybody on board had the virus.

“I have issued orders. Permission to disembark refused,” Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said in a Facebook post.

Deputy Transport Minister Atirat Ratanasate said in a separate Facebook post that, while the ship would not be allowed to dock, Thailand “will gladly help providing fuel, medicine, and food” to the ship.

The coronavirus that emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan last month has caused chaos in Asia and beyond with many flights suspended, businesses disrupted and entry restrictions imposed by governments trying to ward off the spread.  It has also roiled the world of luxury cruises.

Another cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, with 3,700 passengers and crew on board, is quarantined in the Japanese port of Yokohama, with 135 cases of coronavirus detected on the Carnival Corp-owned vessel.

Passengers have been allowed on deck in shifts to get fresh air, and are encouraged to regularly take their temperature.

The World Dream cruise ship was held up in Hong Kong for days after it was linked to three cases but all passengers and crew later tested negative and were allowed to disembark.

The virus has killed more than 1,000 people and infected more than 42,000, chiefly in mainland China.  There are 319 cases in 24 other countries and territories, according to World Health Organisation and Chinese health officials. So far, only two deaths have been reported outside mainland China, in Hong Kong and the Philippines.

The Westerdam had already been turned away from several countries, including Japan and the Philippines, amid fears of the virus.

VOYAGE TO NOWHERE

Holland America says no one on board has the virus. Media reports say it carries 1,455 passengers and 802 crew; its original destination was Yokohama, Japan, which refused it permission to dock.

“The ship is not in quarantine and we have no reason to believe there are any cases of coronavirus on board despite media reports,” the company said.

It had earlier said the Westerdam was sailing toward Bangkok, and it is not immediately clear whether the ship would change course.

The 285 metre long Westerdam can carry up to 1,964 passengers, according to the Holland America website, and is packed with cafes, restaurants and a Blues club.

The ship had already introduced extra health screening measures, including temperature checks and cleaning to defend against the virus, Holland America said in a statement.

Some passengers on board the ship said they had not been told that the ship would be unable to dock in
Thailand.

“We now do not know what is going to happen,” passenger Stephen Hansen told Reuters by email. “(We) thought is was all finalised. Everyone has rebooked flights yet again! Now we are back in limbo.”

American tourist Angela Jones said passengers had been getting regular temperature checks but were becoming frustrated with the uncertainty of the situation.

“I wish someone would allow us to dock and wait it out to prove no coronavirus,” Jones said. “We are all very worried”.

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