Second passenger tests positive for coronavirus on Westerdam

Westerdam vessel at sea. Credit: Holland America

A second test on a female US citizen who disembarked from Westerdam was again positive for coronavirus (COVID-19), as authorities scramble to trace everyone on the ship, which remains docked in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. The ship was carrying more than 2,000 passengers and crew.

Shortly after arriving at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia with her husband to catch their return flight to the United States, she felt unwell and tested positive for COVID-19 on 15 February 2020.

Holland America Line, the cruise ship operators, has been asserting that there were no signs of COVID-19 on Westerdam. However, Cambodian authorities sought a review of the Malaysian test result, leading to the second test on 16 February.

The Cambodian side had tested just 20 people from the Westerdam, and the results were negative. The previous five ports turned away Westerdam because the ship had picked up passengers from Hong Kong, where there have been confirmed cases of COVID-19.

After confirming the COVID-19 infection, Malaysian authorities quarantined other Westerdam passengers who were catching connecting flights in Kuala Lumpur, while other governments contacted passengers who returned home, requesting them to be quarantined at home.

A spokesperson for Holland America Line told SAS that “Westerdam remains alongside in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, where officials from the Cambodian Health Ministry are on board to complete testing for COVID-19 on the 255 guests and 747 crew that are awaiting clearance. We anticipate this will take several days and greatly appreciate the thoroughness of all authorities involved in resolving this situation.

“Guests at a hotel in Phnom Penh have all completed the COVID-19 screening. Results are being returned when completed, with the first batch of 406 all being negative. Cleared guests may travel home, and arrangements are being made for those guests.”

Meanwhile, Kaohsiung port and health authorities in Taiwan are also doing contact tracing as Westerdam had stopped at the port prior to being turned away by five other countries.

Kaohsiung’s Transportation Bureau director Cheng Yung-hsiang said that at least 31 taxis had transported passengers who disembarked from Westerdam in the Taiwanese port. Cheng urged the taxi drivers concerned to come forward to be placed under self-quarantine, although members of the public feel that given the length of the intervening time, this may be too late.

The quarantined cruise ship, Diamond Princess, which has been docked at Yokohama, Japan, since 4 February, has recorded 355 COVID-19 infections as of 17 February. The bug was traced to a former passenger, a Hong Kong man.

With just two days to go before the quarantine ends, the Canadian, Italian, and US governments have chartered flights to evacuate their nationals.

The cluster of infections on Diamond Princess is the largest outside Wuhan, mainland China, causing fears that the bug could easily spread within the confines of cruise ships.

Hong Kong, South Korea, and Vietnam have suspended access to cruise ships despite intensified screening and sanitation procedures.

With COVID-19 cases rising in Singapore, major cruise operators have also cancelled sailings from the city-state, as some governments cautioned against non-essential travel to affected countries.

Celebrity Cruises will move its ship Celebrity Millennium to the United States three months ahead of schedule, after cancelling its remaining season in Asia.

Princess Cruises’ spokesperson told SAS that the company cancelled two sailings from Singapore this month.

He said, “Out of an abundance of caution considering the safety, health, and wellbeing of our guests, we can confirm the cancellation of the February 13 and February 23 voyages of Sapphire Princess departing from Singapore.”

Caused by a novel coronavirus, COVID-19 first surfaced in mainland China in December 2019, but has spread across Asia, with cases appearing in Australia, Egypt, Europe, North America, Russia, and Sri Lanka.

More than 68,000 infections have been reported, with nearly 1,670 people dead. The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 a global health emergency.