The first group of passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship disembarked in Yokahama, Japan, to complete their 14-day quarantine period for coronavirus off the ship, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said Friday.
Princess Cruises asked 22 passengers if they wanted to disembark, and 11 accepted, including two Americans, the embassy said. The embassy said another 200 passengers would be asked as soon as Friday night.
Officials are placing priority on elderly passengers with pre-existing conditions or in rooms with no balcony. All eligible passengers would have to test negative for coronavirus, the embassy said.
As of Thursday, at least 218 people aboard the ship had tested positive for coronavirus, including at least 20 Americans. The Diamond Princess is thought to be the largest group of coronavirus patients outside China, where the outbreak has infected almost 64,000 people and killed almost 1,400.
The Embassy noted that the process was expected to be time consuming and that Princess Cruises would be in contact with disembarking passengers to coordinate their return travel once they complete their quarantine period in a Japanese government facility.
Other Diamond Princess guests will remain on board through the end of the Feb. 19 quarantine period. The Princess Cruises ship was carrying 2,666 guests and 1,045 crew when it set sail and was quarantined after an initial 10 cases of coronavirus were reported Feb. 4.
Guests will be tested for coronavirus prior to disembarking: Those who test positive will be transported to a local hospital, while those who test negative will be allowed to leave and head to a quarantine housing facility.
In addition to providing meals, laundry service, internet and on-demand entertainment, the cruise line has arranged for the delivery of more than 2,000 prescription medications, Rai Caluori, Princess Cruises’ executive vice president of fleet operations, announced in a Facebook video Tuesday.
“One of our highest priorities has been to provide guests and crew with their prescription medications,” Caluori added. “Seven new pharmacists have been assisting in the assorting, delivery and distribution to guests.”
All guests will receive a full refund for the cruise, including airfare, hotel, ground transportation, pre-paid shore excursions, gratuities and other items. Princess Cruises will also provide guests with a future cruise credit equal to the cost of their current trip, which had been scheduled to end on Feb. 4 before it was placed under an additional two-week quarantine.
Though all gratuities will also be refunded to guests, Princess Cruises said that the company will make sure crew members receive their designated gratuities for their work, plus paid time off following the quarantine.
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Vietnam turns away multiple cruise ships
As the deadly coronavirus continues to spread, Vietnam has begun blocking ships from making port calls.
Vietnam authorities stopped AIDAvita, a German ship, from making a port call. And Norwegian Cruise Line said Vietnam is closing its ports to cruise ships, which has forced the line to cancel the upcoming sailing of its Norwegian Jade cruise ship.
“Due to growing concerns regarding coronavirus in Asia, the ports we planned to visit in Vietnam are no longer open to accepting cruise ships,” Christine Da Silva, Norwegian Cruise Line spokesperson, said in an emailed statement to USA TODAY.
Instead of finding another port, Norwegian canceled the cruise altogether. Da Silva said that omitting Vietnam would change the itinerary on the ship’s sailing from Feb. 17-Feb. 27 and that there is “no viable replacement.”
And the itinerary of German ship, AIDAvita of AIDA Cruises, a subsidiary of the Carnival Corporation, has been changed after the ship was denied entry in Vietnam on Thursday.
“The port authorities of Cai Lan (Halong Bay) did not confirm the planned call of AIDAvita on February 13 and 14, 2020 in time as usual,” Kathrin Heitmann, a spokesperson for AIDA Cruises, said in an emailed statement to USA TODAY.
The ship had docked in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, which all have had cases of coronavirus, the Vietnam News Agency told Reuters.
By midday Friday, Vietnam had reported 16 confirmed cases of coronavirus. The new coronavirus, which was first identified in Wuhan, China, has spread across the globe with more than 64,400 confirmed cases and the death toll rising above 1,380.
Instead of stopping in Vietnam, the ship was in Laem Chabang, Thailand, near Bangkok, on Friday, according to the cruise line.
AIDA Cruises said that there are no suspected or confirmed cases of coronavirus on board. And no guest or crew member had been in China in the previous 14 days. Heitmann said that the line was not given a reason as to why they were not allowed to dock.
However, AIDA Cruises has decided “in light of coronavirus in East Asia and the increasing travel restrictions” to end AIDAvita’s Asia and Australia cruise season along with the Asian season of another ship, AIDAbella.
AIDAvita’s cruise was meant to end in Bangkok and guests will disembark there on Sunday, according to the line. AIDAbella’s season will end on Monday. All guests will receive a refund and offered an alternative option.
Cruise industry trade group Cruise Lines International Association, which has 270 member ships, expressed the group’s dismay over the latest port denials.
“With enhanced screening measures in place, as guided by national and international health authorities, CLIA and its member lines do not believe restrictions on the movement of ships are justified,” Bari Golin-Blaugrund, senior director of strategic communications, told USA TODAY in an email.
MS Westerdam: No longer in limbo
It’s been an emotional ride for guests on board Holland America’s MS Westerdam. But now, the ship’s aimless journey has come to a close: Passengers began to disembark early Friday at the port of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, their detour the result of fears around coronavirus.
“The first passengers are off the Westerdam and headed home!” the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia tweeted early Friday local time. “We’re happy to greet them as they step onto dry land. Thank you to the government of Cambodia who helped this happen.”
The ship’s 1,455 passengers had been waiting for the all-clear from the Cambodian Health Ministry. After 20 samples were tested for coronavirus at the Pasteur Laboratory in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, passengers received permission to disembark.
Lorraine Oliveira, a passenger traveling from the U.K. on Westerdam with her family, told USA TODAY that they were able to get off the ship on Friday.
“We’ve been to the beach today,” she said. “It was amazing – so nice having our feet on land.”
Erik Elvejord, Holland America’s public relations director, said the process would take a few days, with the goal of having everyone off the ship by Sunday. The cruise originally was scheduled to end on Saturday.
The company was working to book return flights for passengers from Phnom Penh. In a tweet early Friday, the embassy told the ship’s U.S. passengers to look at the airport for personnel wearing blue hats with an American flag, who would assist them with their departure.
Life on cruise ship in limbo:Relief, frustration, skepticism and medical needs
Contributing: Jayme Deerwester, Curtis Tate, USA TODAY