Malaysia bans cruise ships over COVID-19 fears

Malaysia's health director-general Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah explains the blanket cruise ship ban at a press conference. Credit: Malaysia health ministry

Malaysia has issued a blanket ban on entry to cruise ships, effective 8 March 2020, over coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) fears.

Circulars have been issued to shipowners, agents, vessel owners, port authorities, and terminal operators, informing them that all cruise ships are indefinitely barred from docking at Malaysian ports.

The ban was imposed by the transport and health ministries, as the number of COVID-19 infections has reached nearly 100 as of 8 March 2020.

A Costa Crociere ship, Costa Fortuna, was affected by the sudden ban, but will continue with its scheduled call at Singapore. While Costa has declared that all persons on board are healthy, they will still be screened on arrival in Singapore on 10 March.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and Singapore Tourism Board (STB) said that Costa Fortuna has declared that none of its passengers currently on board have a fever or other symptoms of respiratory illness. Precautionary measures —  such as swab tests and temperature screening — will also be in place for disembarking passengers.

Costa Fortuna is carrying about 2,000 people, including 64 Italians. Italy has been hit hard by the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, with more than 7,300 confirmed cases as of Sunday. It has reported 366 deaths from the virus, the highest number of deaths outside China.

Costa Fortuna’s home port is in Singapore and the ship had last departed on 3 March for a cruise around the South China Sea. The travel history and body temperature of all of its passengers were done before boarding.

Costa said that the doctor on Costa Fortuna will check the passengers and crew to ensure that they are healthy before disembarking in Singapore. Passengers entering Singapore will be required to undergo temperature screenings as a precautionary measure.

Those who exhibit a fever or other symptoms of respiratory illness but do not meet the Ministry of Health’s clinical definition of COVID-19 may be required to undergo a swab test, while those who are identified for swab testing but refuse to do so will not be allowed entry into Singapore.

Singapore’s cruise terminals remain open to scheduled cruise calls while unscheduled calls have been disallowed since 24 February.

Caused by a novel coronavirus, COVID-19 surfaced in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, but has since spread around the globe, with more than 109,000 infections and 3,800 deaths.