Cruise ship quarantined over new virus cluster, says Egypt

LUXOR, EGYPT (AP) — A cruise ship on Egypt’s Nile River with over 150 tourists and local crew was in quarantine late on Saturday in the southern city of Luxor, as 45 people on board tested positive for the new coronavirus, authorities said.

A Taiwanese-American tourist who had previously been on the same ship tested positive when she returned to Taiwan, the World Health Organization (WHO) informed Egyptian authorities, who then tested everyone on the ship.

Health authorities first found that a dozen of the ship’s Egyptian crew members had contracted the fast-spreading virus, and said they did not show symptoms, according to a joint statement from Egypt’s Health Ministry and the WHO last Friday.

At a news conference in Cairo, Health Minister Hala Zayed said 33 others tested positive for the virus. Of the total 45 infected passengers and crew, 19 were foreigners, officials said. Zayed did not elaborate on the nationalities of the non-Egyptians.

Officials said the 45 would be transferred to isolation in a hospital on Egypt’s north coast. The passengers — who include Americans, French and other nationalities — and the remaining crew remained quarantined on the ship awaiting further test results. The United States (US) Embassy in Cairo said in a tweet it was working to provide consular services and assistance to the US citizens affected.

Nile river boat MS River Anuket docks in the city of Luxor in southern Egypt. PHOTO: AP

The new cases brought to 48 the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Egypt, including 21 foreign nationals and 27 Egyptians.

Amonios Salah, who works as a chef on the ship, told The Associated Press that the crew received an inquiry from the Health Ministry about crew members showing flu-like symptoms.

“Some of us were sick. Some with fever,” he said.

The 12 infected crew members were isolated on the third floor of the vessel away from the tourists, including two children, the 30-year-old chef said. The tourists then waited for test results.

The cruise started in Luxor, about 655 kilometres south of Cairo, yesterday. The vessel, which includes 60 rooms, made three stops before reaching its destination at Aswan. On the return trip there were three more stops, Salah said, potentially expanding the number of people exposed to the virus.

“It’s still unclear how many people came in contact with the group in the infected ship,” said a senior police officer in Luxor. Cruise ships on the Nile often dock side by side, with passengers getting on and off by walking through several other vessels. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorised to talk to reporters.

Egyptian authorities have been tight-lipped about the virus outbreak, previously reporting only three confirmed cases even as the wider Mideast now has over 6,000 confirmed cases.