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Cruise ships in troubled waters over coronavirus

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Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined off Japan.


Today marks the last day for the crewmembers and passengers on the Diamond Princess Cruise ship, which has been quarantined for the past 14 days. The situation has thrown the cruise ship operators across the world off-balance, as the outbreak of Coronavirus dealt a big blow on the tourism-related shipping business.

Tourists are now extremely cautious of moving out of base, especially travelling to the 27 countries that currently have identified cases of Coronavirus. These include China with 72,618 confirmed cases, Japan (65), Vietnam (16), United States (15), Republic of Korea (31), Malaysia (22), Singapore (77), United Arab Emirates (9), United Kingdom (9), Taiwan (22), and Spain (2).

Others are Germany (16), France (12), Thailand (35), Canada (8), Australia (15), Italy (3), Philippines (3), Belgium (1), India (3), Russia (2), while Sweden, Finland, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Napal have one case each, as at yesterday.

Indeed, some of the cruise liners have suspended operations until the situation is contained. The refusal and quarantine of cruise ships are the latest measures by governments around the world struggling to contain the outbreak.A ship, operated by Holland America Line, a brand owned by Miami-based cruise giant, Carnival Corp., has been refused entry by five countries or territories, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Ports in Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, and Guam have also sent it away on concerns over the virus.

Already, about four cruise ships have been quarantined for suspected cases of Coronavirus. These include the Diamond Princess, World Dream, Westerdam luxury liner, and Anthem of the Seas. While the World Dream was lucky to have its 1,800 crew members allowed to disembark after being tested negative, Diamond Princess was not so lucky, as it remained quarantined for about three weeks running, with about 454 people already confirmed positive.

About 3,600 people have been stuck in their cabins under mandatory quarantine aboard the Diamond Princess, which is docked off the Japanese port city of Yokohama, since February 5. With 454 confirmed cases of coronavirus on board, the ship has the largest concentration of novel coronavirus cases outside Mainland China. Today (February 19), the controversial quarantine period finally comes to an end.

In the passenger decks of the Diamond Princess Cruise ship, more than 2,500 travellers are carefully isolated. Meals are delivered to their cabins. They have permission to walk on deck, six feet apart, for a few minutes a day. Down below, more than 1,000 crew members live and work elbow-to-elbow, preparing the passengers’ dishes and eating simple buffet-style meals together, with as many as four sharing a bathroom and sharing the risk of possible infection from the coronavirus.

While the quarantine slapped on the Diamond Princess was meant to contain the virus, the conditions facing the crew could end up doing the opposite and help spread the virus, according to disease experts.An associate professor of infectious diseases at the University of Washington, John B. Lynch, said: “We have to remember that quarantines protect those outside the quarantine, not those within.”

In Hong Kong, where another cruise ship, the World Dream, has been held at port, about 1,800 crew members aboard were tested for the coronavirus after the authorities said that infected passengers had disembarked on January 24, in Guangzhou Province, China.

When the ship arrived in Hong Kong on a subsequent journey, the health authorities first tested those who had fever or showed symptoms of the virus. All of those initial tests came back negative, but out of an abundance of caution, the Hong Kong health authorities decided to test all crewmembers.

Experts said the authorities should also test everyone on board the Diamond Princess in Yokohama.“It is extremely possible that the infection has been transmitted on the ship,” said Harue Okada, a professor of public health at Hakuoh University in Tochigi Prefecture. She added that it was difficult to identify who had been exposed to infected people, including those who came into contact with other people during shore excursions.”

Also, about 2,257 passengers and crew onboard the Westerdam Luxury Liner were in limbo after Thailand also turned the ship away from its ports, leaving guests desperate to disembark after almost two weeks at sea.Few days after, it was discovered that a passenger on a cruise ship was confirmed to have been infected with the novel coronavirus after she and her husband disembarked when the ship was allowed to dock in Cambodia.

The confirmation of an infection on the ship has raised concerns about the virus’ further spread, and authorities are scrambling to confirm if other passengers might be infected, potentially spreading the virus to countries it has not yet reached. Amid these health concerns, travellers are now wary of embarking on a voyage with the cruise liners, while the operators are also taking precautionary measures and the routes to take, and kind of passengers to book. Indeed, many of them have grounded operations pending when the scary infection is contained.

Already, an American-owned cruise lines and resorts are suspending operations until the situation is contained.Royal Caribbean International, the world’s largest cruise line, initially announced it would not allow Wuhan residents or individuals who had recently travelled through the town to board its ships, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Royal Caribbean has so far cancelled a total of 18 ships sailing to Southeast Asia, and modified several itineraries due to travel restrictions aimed at containing the coronavirus.

Norwegian Cruise Line, on the other hand, has introduced non-touch temperature screening for all passengers boarding its ships from Chinese ports to prevent the flu-like virus from spreading. Those who have a body temperature of 100.4˚F were not allowed to board.

Individuals, who have lived or travelled through Wuhan in the last 30 days, will be turned away as well.On its part, Celebrity Cruises and Costa Crociere, has cancelled a series of cruises throughout Europe that were scheduled for the month. Geneva-based, MSC Cruises has also followed suit with its January 28 sail from Shanghai.

Chinese-owned, Astro Ocean Cruises is offering refunds to anyone who has a fever, while Genting Dream has cancelled a turnaround call in Guangzhou for its World Dream ship. Reports from the Cruise Lines International Association declared that 28.2 million people took a cruise in 2018. Of that number, 2.4 million were cruisers from China.

Although Nigeria is not one of the favourite destinations for cruise ship, the Federal Government has placed vessels from some Asian countries, particularly from China, Japan, Thailand, and South Korea under strict surveillance.A memo issued by Port Health Services to stakeholders on the outbreak of the virus reads in part: “Port Health Services wishes to notify all port users, agencies and stakeholders of the outbreak of Coronavirus in China, Thailand, South Korea, and Japan.

“That any vessel coming to Nigeria through the above-named countries must notify the Port Health Services 48 hours before arrival to forestall any outbreak of this virus in Nigeria,”The Director of Port Health Services at the Lagos Ports Complex Apapa, Olokodana Abisola, confirmed the development, adding that agencies such as the Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Plant Quarantine Services, and the Nigeria Immigration Service have been put on red alert.

A Clearing Agent, Ben Osuji, urged the Nigerian Government to put adequate measures in place to ensure that the deadly virus is not imported into the country.He said: “This is a very critical situation whereby any serious government should be more concerned about the welfare of its citizenry, therefore it is expected that our seaports will be properly protected to ensure that the seafarers and dock workers are safe.“The Ebola case was a misfortune, a similar occurrence must not be allowed this time around. All hands must be on deck. The officials must be at duty while the dock workers are well enlightened.”


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