Thousands quarantined on Asian cruise ships in virus fight

YOKOHAMA (AFP) – Thousands of people were stranded aboard two cruise ships in Asia, quarantined by officials desperate to stem the spread of a deadly virus that has killed hundreds in China and spread panic worldwide.

At least 20 people on board one ocean liner off the Japanese coast have tested positive for the new coronavirus, with thousands more facing two weeks of isolation.

The outbreak on the vessel, whose 3,700 passengers and crew hail from over 50 countries, is the latest development in a snowballing global health emergency that has left more than 560 people dead, most of them in China. In Hong Kong, 3,600 people spent the night confined aboard the cruise ship World Dream as authorities conducted health checks after three former passengers tested positive for the virus.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said another huge cruise ship, the Westerdam, was heading to the country with one suspected infected passenger aboard.

He said no foreigners from the vessel, capable of carrying nearly 3,000 passengers and crew, would be allowed to disembark.

Journalists gather in front of the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama yesterday. PHOTO: AP

Since emerging from central China last December the virus has killed 563 people and infected over 24,000 more.

The World Health Organization (WHO), which has declared the outbreak a global health emergency, on Wednesday appealed for USD675 million to fight the virus.

In Japan, more than 3,700 people were confined to quarters aboard the Diamond Princess, which has been held off the port city of Yokohama since Monday night.

Authorities decided to quarantine the ship and test hundreds on board after a former passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong last month tested positive for the virus.

Japanese Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told Parliament that results for 102 people had now come in, with 20 testing positive.

In all some 273 people on board were tested, including those who had close contact with the former passenger and others displaying potential symptoms.

Ten people diagnosed with the new virus have already been removed from the ship, which docked in Yokohama to resupply for a quarantine that could last until February 19.

Ambulances arrived at the port, where officials could be seen dressed in white protective suits, complete with face masks and helmets, to remove the additional 10 infected people.

Passengers took to social media to document their confinement, with one posting audio of an announcement on the ship promising better Internet and room service. “The crew are working extremely hard for you,” the announcement in English said.

“Masks will be delivered to your state rooms as we are negotiating with the Japanese quarantine officials to allow small groups of guests to spend some time on the open decks to get some fresh air.”

British passenger David Abel uploaded a series of videos on his Facebook page, jokingly asking the captain to send him beverages and requesting a banana a day from room service.

“It’s a horrible situation for most passengers on board, being stuck here, confined to the cabin,” he said, sympathising especially with those with inside rooms. “It must be almost unbearable for them.”