More than 2,000 passengers and crew have been left stranded aboard a cruise ship and low on supplies after Thailand became the fifth country to deny it permission to dock over fears about the coronavirus.
The MS Westerdam, carrying 2,257 passengers and crew, is moored in the Gulf of Thailand with nowhere to dock after being refused entry by Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, the US Pacific territory of Guam and now by Thailand on Wednesday, even though no cases of the virus have been found onboard.
There are fears the ship could start running out of food as it searches for a port.
Stephen Hansen, a Canadian who is on board the Westerdam with his wife, said they had joined the ship on 16 January in Singapore and were originally scheduled to get off in Yokohama, its intended final destination.
“Passengers are okay but anxious for a resolution,” Hansen told the Guardian in a message on Wednesday. “If it goes on much longer the ship will run low on food, fuel and medications.
“Day to day life on board is still pretty typical for a cruise. There are no restrictions on movement, eats etc. Generally the mood is still okay but each new rejection/disappointment brings increased frustration and anxiety.”
Hansen, who is from Vancouver, said the crew were doing an “amazing job trying to keep life normal and passengers happy. A few passengers have become angry and are venting on social media but I think most are trusting that it will all work out okay soon.”
“That said, this has become a political issue and our governments need to step in our behalf. Maybe they already are but we have no news of that.”
There are no confirmed cases of the virus on board the Westerdam, but it stopped in Hong Kong less than two weeks ago, which is within the incubation period of the virus.
The passengers include 650 from the US, 271 from Canada, 127 from the UK and 91 from the Netherlands, with smaller numbers of people from Australia, Germany, China and other countries.
Officials in Japan, meanwhile, said another 39 people aboard the Diamond Princess cruise liner had been diagnosed with the virus – officially named Covid-19 – bringing the number of cases on the ship to 174.
In all, Japan has confirmed 203 cases, prompting South Korea on Tuesday to “strongly advise” its citizens not to travel to Japan and several other countries in Asia.
The health ministry said an official who took part in initial quarantine checks on all 3,700 passengers and crew on 4 February had also tested positive and was being treated in hospital.
The Diamond Princess, which is docked in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, will remain quarantined until at least 19 February, although media reports said plans were being made to remove older passengers and those with chronic health conditions not connected to the virus before then. Officials said it would take time to work out where they could be sent.
“Out of 53 new test results, 39 people were found positive,” Japan’s health minister, Katsunobu Kato, told reporters, adding that four passengers diagnosed earlier were in a serious condition.
The ship has been in quarantine since arriving off the Japanese coast early last week after the virus was detected in a former passenger who got off the ship last month in Hong Kong.
Passengers and crew on the Westerdam were told on Monday they would be able to disembark on Thursday this week at Laem Chabang near Bangkok. But on Tuesday the Thai public health minister, Anutin Charnvirakul, said on Facebook that he had ordered authorities to refuse permission.
“We are aware of the reports regarding the status of Westerdam’s call to Laem Chabang,” the ship’s operator, the Holland America Line, said in a statement. “We are actively working this matter and will provide an update when we are able. We know this is confusing for our guests and their families and we greatly appreciate their patience. We have no reason to believe there are any cases of coronavirus on board the ship despite media reports.”
Westerdam passenger Christina Kerby, a communications director from San Francisco, said passengers were trying to keep themselves occupied with exercise and games.
“Captain reports that ship is coordinating closely with Thai authorities, the WHO and govts of US, Canada, Holland and others,” Kerby tweeted on Wednesday, adding that she had “full trust” in the cruise operator “to get us home safely and as quickly as possible”.
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