Cambodia came to the rescue of passengers aboard Holland America’s MS Westerdam on Wednesday, granting the ship permission to disembark at Sihanoukville on Thursday.
“All approvals have been received and we are extremely grateful to the Cambodian authorities for their support,” the line said in a release provided by public relations director Erik Elvejord to USA TODAY.
Their ship departed Hong Kong Feb. 1 and was originally scheduled to disembark in Shanghai on Saturday before coronavirus gripped mainland China and forced itinerary changes. It was turned away from multiple other disembarkation points, despite the cruise line’s assertion that there are no known cases among MS Westerdam’s 1,455 passengers and 802 crew.
First, it moved to Yokohama, Japan, only for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to bar the vessel from entering his country. Next, Guam, a U.S. territory, turned it away, rejecting a request from the State Department to let the ship in.
And on Tuesday – one day after Holland America announced it had gotten permission for the ship to disembark at Bangkok’s Laem Chabang port – Thailand’s public health minister, Anutin Charnvirakul, said he issued orders denying the ship permission to disembark there.
The Philippines also barred the ship from making a scheduled port call earlier in the sailing.
Passengers will be able to go ashore when they arrive in Cambodia The ship will remain in port at Sihanoukville for several days post-disembarkation. Guests will make their way home from Sihanoukville over the following few days and then transfer on charter flights to Phnom Penh before continuing on their way home. Holland America will arrange and pay for all flights home. All passengers will receive a full refund and a future cruise credit.
The Westerdam passengers aren’t the only ones breathing a sigh of relief: on Tuesday, the quarantine was lifted for the 195 U.S. citizens who left Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, on Jan. 29. Although they will need follow-up care from their doctors, they are now allowed to leave March Air Reserve Base in California and return home.
Coronavirus quarantine ends: 195 people who flew from Wuhan to California free to leave airbase
Diamond Princess now has 174 cases
“We are following guidance from the Japan Ministry of Health on plans for disembarkation protocols to provide medical care for these new cases,” Princess Cruises said in a statement provided by Negin Kamali, director of public relations.
The ship was carrying 2,666 guests and 1,045 crew when it set sail on Jan. 20 and is now quarantined off the coast of Japan. The Diamond Princess is scheduled to remain under quarantine until Feb. 19. Those who have been diagnosed have been taken to local hospitals, and an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has arrived in Tokyo to assist Japanese health officials.
Due to the quarantine, “it was not unexpected that additional cases would be reported involving individuals who were exposed prior to the start of the quarantine,” Princess Cruises said in a statement provided by Negin Kamali, director of public relations.
Passengers on the ship have been instructed to stay in their suites or cabins during the quarantine.
Those in interior cabins with no window or outdoor access have been able to go on deck for up to an hour and a half but must stay at least three feet from fellow passengers, Matt Smith, an attorney from Sacramento, California, and a passenger on the quarantined ship told USA TODAY on Friday.
The coronavirus, which was first identified in Wuhan, China, has spread across the globe with 45,204confirmed cases and 1,116 deaths as of Wednesday morning. Common signs of infection include fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.
Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Japanese authorities initially decided quarantining people on the Diamond Princess cruise ship was the best option. She said during an event Tuesday at the National Press Club that the increasing number of infected individuals on the ship is prompting officials to “look critically” about the safest thing to do for all on board.
“I think the issue is what are the options available? Finding the best option, given what we know right now about how much spread has already occurred and how many are still susceptible,” she said. “It’s just an extremely difficult issue. For the passengers, the crew and their families, it is extremely difficult.”
Schuchat noted the ship has a lot of elderly people on board. “What’s the best way to safely offload them, if they are going to be offloaded?”
Norovirus outbreaks hit two ships
Coronavirus isn’t the only bug plaguing cruise ships: norovirus is also wreaking havoc.
On Monday, Princess Cruises’ Caribbean Princess was forced to abort its 14-day Caribbean sailing after 299 passengers and 22 crew members became sick with the highly contagious gastrointestinal virus. It is en route back to Port Everglades Florida, where it is expected to dock Thursday, according to spokesperson Negin Kamali.
Norovirus strikes Princess cruise ship: Caribbean Princess forced to turn around after over 300 fall ill
Meanwhile, Saga Cruises’ Spirit of Discovery was denied entry to Gilbraltar over the weekend due to dozens of cases of highly contagious gastrointestinal illness aboard the British-flagged ship. It was ordered to return to Southampton, England, where it is expected to arrive Wednesday.
Contributing: Ken Alltucker, Bill Keveney, Grace Hauck, USA TODAY; Frank Witsil, The Detroit Free Press