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Coronavirus: 7,000 people trapped on cruise ship after couple fall ill

EUROPE
By Mirror | Jan 30th 2020 | 7 min read
Passengers wait on board the Costa Smeralda after the Chinese couple was tested (Image: @Filippo64416163/Twitter)

Over 6,000 passengers and crew are trapped on a cruise ship in Italy amid fears two Chinese holidaymakers are carrying coronavirus.

A husband and wife from Macau have been isolated in separate rooms on the Costa Smeralda after the 54-year-old woman came down with a fever and breathing difficulties on Wednesday night during a seven-day Mediterranean cruise.

The two have been checked by an on-board doctor and undergone tests to find out if they have the SARS-like virus, which has killed at least 170 people in China and infected more than 7,700 others.

There are about 750 Chinese nationals on the Smeralda, including the Macau woman, who has been isolated in ship's hospital with flu-like symptoms, and her husband, who has not shown any signs of the virus and is in isolation as a precaution.

If they are carrying the killer bug, there are fears that it could have already spread to hundreds of others on board the vessel, which docked at a port in Civitavecchia, north-west of Rome, on Thursday with about 6,000 passengers and 1,000 crew.

The Chinese couple arrived at Milan's Malpensa Airport on Saturday on a flight from Hong Kong and then traveled about 100 miles to the port of Savona, where they boarded the Smeralda the same day.

The 1,105-ft longship had made previous stops this week in Mallorca, Barcelona, and Marseille en route back to Italy.

Doctors from the Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases have boarded the vessel in Civitavecchia and it is unknown if it will continue its journey back to Savona, where it is due to arrive on Saturday.

It is understood that the Chinese couple's blood samples were being tested at a hospital in Rome. The ship is being held until the results come back.

Passengers, who were meant to go on a day trip to Rome, said it is possible that everyone will be forced off in Civitavecchia to undergo medical screening. The ship is due to leave Civitavecchia at 7 pm local time, but the rest of the journey is now in doubt.

One crew member who disembarked the ship on Tuesday evening and is now in Germany has been sent home from work and told to stay home "until further notice", the Mirror understands. 

Gaby, a passenger from Argentina who is trapped on the ship, tweeted: "Arriving in Rome on the Costa Smeralda cruise ship and they are not letting us get off the boat.

"They say there is a sanitary inspection.

"We have gone 3 hours without information."

She later wrote: "The captain of the Costa Smeralda says that, because of the #coronavirus, the sanitary controls in the ports will be more exhaustive."

Speaking from the vessel, Gaby told Mirror Online: "We are worried. We have no information.

"We don't know what will happen next or if everyone will have to be screened."

Passengers were "worried" that coronavirus may have been spreading on the vessel (Image: @Filippo64416163/Twitter

Italian passenger Filippo Rossi, 53, posted photos of "tired" travelers sat on the floor and in dining or common areas as they waited for updates. None are wearing masks.

Another snap shows police officers stood on the dock.

Mr Rossi, from Rome, wrote: "Meanwhile in Civitavecchia we are stuck in Costa ship without knowing the reason (officially)."

He told Mirror Online: "People are mostly tired. We are worried because officially onboard crew say nothing about. They talk about 'normal' controls.

"We don't know when we'll disembark the ship."

Mr Rossi and another passenger, Marina Guerrero, 34, said British citizens are on board the Smeralda.

Ms Guerrero, from Badalona, Spain, said passengers had been left in the dark. She posted a video showing a passenger wearing a mask as holidaymakers were gathered on one of the outdoor deck areas.

She said: "We have no information about what is happening. All we know is what has been posted on the internet.

"Everything is normal on board."

Serge Simard, from Saint-Jerome, near Montreal, in Canada, told Mirror Online: "Everything is calm. Too bad they canceled our tour to Rome.

"They said the sanitary inspection should last 30 minutes. That was around 8.30 am. Then once every 60 or 90 minutes we received an update saying to wait.

"Then at 1.30 pm they canceled our tour to Rome. I personally learned why reading the news online."

Mr Simard, 54, said he wasn't worried about coronavirus, adding: "Seems like the people we have met are enjoying their vacations, so are we.

"We may be more careful where we put our hands, washing often and never touch our face, things like that, but what can we do?"

No-one was being allowed off the ship while medical checks were carried out to see if the Chinese couple had the potentially deadly coronavirus, a Costa Cruises spokesman said.

The captain informed passengers that two people from China were being tested for coronavirus (Image: @Filippo64416163/Twitter)

 

He said it might take "a few hours" before the situation became clearer.

Passenger Maria Cartagena tweeted a photo of holidaymakers in a swimming pool, writing: "All normal onboard #costasmeralda awaiting evidence of #coronavirus to passengers of Asian origin. Ship locked in #civitavecchia."

Earlier, she wrote: "Does anyone know how long it takes for tests to detect it? They are doing checks on 2 Chinese passengers and for now (logical) they don't tell us anything else. A bit of burden."

Another passenger, from France, tweeted: "What do we do now? 2 hours waiting to go on an excursion with 3 announcements to say that these are 'normal checks', if that were the case you would have anticipated and we would already be in Rome on an excursion. Where is the travel info?

"Onboard of #CostaSmeralda, few announcements from @costacroisieres, waiting since 8:30 this morning to find out who, why, how ... meanwhile, we have more info here [on Twitter] than onboard. The situation is delicate of course but leaving passengers in fog is unacceptable.

There are 751 Chinese nationals on the Smeralda, including 374 who boarded in Savona with the Macau woman and her husband, Ansa reported.

The seven-night cruise began at Civitavecchia on the evening of January 23 with stops in La Spezia the following day and in Savona, where the Chinese couple boarded last Saturday.

From there it stopped in Marseille on Sunday, Barcelona on Monday and Mallorca on Tuesday before heading back to Civitavecchia.

A Costa Cruises spokesman said: "Costa Cruises confirms the sanitary protocol has been activated for a guest onboard Costa Smeralda. The guest, a 54-year-old lady of Chinese nationality, has been in isolation in the onboard hospital since last night together with her travel mate, in line with health protocols.

"As soon as the suspected case was detected, the medical team on board immediately activated all the relevant health procedures to promptly isolate and manage the clinical condition.

"The Health Authority has been immediately notified and is now on board to conduct all the pertinent measures. 

"It is our utmost priority to ensure the health and safety of passengers and crew.

"The company is at complete disposal of the Health Authority and its indication will be strictly applied.

"Costa Cruises continue to apply the relevant national policies and epidemic developments, as per the World Health Organisation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indications.

"Costa Smeralda reached Civitavecchia this morning, coming from Palma de Mallorca.

"The ship is operating seven-day cruises in West Med, including Civitavecchia, La Spezia, Savona, Marseille, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca."

As passengers were held on board, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the government was ready to take further steps if necessary but did not elaborate.

"We're not concerned, but we are absolutely vigilant and cautious in facing this prospect," he told reporters during a trip to Bulgaria.

Ernesto Tedesco, mayor of Civitavecchia, told TRC Giornale: "There is a suspected case of coronavirus at the port of Civitavecchia."

The Harbour Master's Office said the situation was under control.

Vincenzo Leone, a commander of the Lazio coastguard, told la Repubblica: "We are waiting for the outcome of the checks still in progress, but everything that needed to be done has been done.

"The situation is under control and at the moment, there is no reason for concern on board."

The brand new ship, which made its inaugural voyage in December, has a maximum capacity for just over 6,500 passengers and 1,600 crew.

Costa Cruises announced on Thursday that it was canceled nine cruises from China due to the outbreak.

Health experts have expressed fears that Chinese holidaymakers could spread the virus during journeys abroad.

It can take days for symptoms to appear and doubts have been cast on the effectiveness of screening measures at airports.

Like other respiratory infections, coronavirus is transmitted between people in droplets from coughs and sneezes.

It has an incubation of between one and 14 days, and there are signs it may spread before symptoms show.

Symptoms can include a fever, cough and breathing difficulties, and it can lead to pneumonia and other potentially deadly complications.

As of Thursday morning, the virus has killed at least 170 people and infected more than 7,700 others during the outbreak in China.

Most of the cases have occurred in Hubei province and its capital, Wuhan, where the outbreak began late last month.

Experts believe the virus spread to humans at a live animal market in the city of 11million.

Infections have been reported in at least 16 other countries - including France, Germany, the US, Canada and Australia - with 105 confirmed cases.

No deaths have occurred outside China.

China has locked down the affected regions - halting flights and public transport - and imposed travel restrictions on its citizens in a desperate bid to contain the flu-like virus.

British Airways and other airlines have suspended flights to China, and Britain is planning to rescue about 200 UK citizens who are trapped in Wuhan, ground zero for the outbreak.

The US and Japan have already evacuated hundreds of their citizens.

Russia closed its border with China as further travel restrictions were imposed on Thursday.

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