Nightmare holidays: Virus runs cruise passengers’ plans aground

The fast-spreading coronavirus outbreak has upended the dream vacations for thousands of sea-faring passengers.

The 2,257 passengers and crew abroad MS Westerdam heaved a sigh of relief when they finally saw land from their cabin windows and set afoot in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Their cruise liner had been marooned for days after five countries denied it entry fearing that somebody in the ship was infected.

On Friday, the passengers were welcomed by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who handed out flowers to welcome them.

Though no one has shown any symptoms of the coronavirus, the Westerdam’s crew and passengers went through a health screening at the port.

Following the Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong, Japan became the latest country to deny entry to all international cruise ships.

The scramble in Tokyo to close its ports came on the heels of a surge in confirmed cases in the cruise ship, Diamond Princess, which is currently under quarantine and docked in Yokohama.

On Thursday, Japan’s health officials confirmed 218 passengers and crew, as well as one quarantine officer, have been infected making it the largest cluster of infections outside China, the source of the COVID19 outbreak.

Floating petri dish
Much like the virus, the fear that any cruise ship can be a floating petri dish has also been spreading. However, health experts said ships are actually safer than aircraft.

“Cruise ships are much less a risk than for example planes for global spread of a virus,” said Dr Marc-Alain Widdowson, director of the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium, told Al Jazeera. “This is because ships are usually at sea for several days, so this gives time for symptoms to show in people incubating the disease.”

But then the length of a sea voyage and contained nature of a ship do present other risks.

“If someone does fall sick, it is possible to confine them to cabins, but the ship facilities are often not equipped to deal with many severe illness at a time. If someone is very sick on the sea, it is difficult to evacuate them,” Widdowson added. “Therefore, a cruise ship is a place for viruses and other microbes to rapidly spread.”


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