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A cruise ship passenger tested positive for coronavirus after hundreds of other passengers disembarked

Michelle Mark , Business Insider US
 Feb 18, 2020, 07:41 AM
A member of the media wearing a face mask walks past the Diamond Princess cruise ship at Daikoku Pier where it is being resupplied and newly diagnosed coronavirus cases taken for treatment.
Carl Court/Getty Images
  • Health officials said Saturday that they've found a coronavirus case among the hundreds of passengers who disembarked a cruise ship in Cambodia, The New York Times reported.
  • The Westerdam cruise ship spent weeks stranded at sea after five ports rejected it over coronavirus fears.
  • Now, more than 1,000 passengers from the ship have proceeded to destinations around the world, and health officials are struggling to determine how to handle the situation.
  • One expert told The Times the incident could mark a "turning point" in the effort to keep the coronavirus outbreak mostly confined to China.
  • The news comes amid an international debate over how to handle quarantined cruise ships with passengers from countries around the world.
  • Visit Business Insider SA's homepage for more stories.

Health officials said Saturday that a woman who recently disembarked from a cruise ship tested positive for coronavirus - after hundreds of other passengers left the ship and dispersed to destinations around the world, The New York Times reported Saturday.

The Westerdam cruise ship spent weeks stranded at sea after five ports rejected it despite no known infections at the time. The Cambodian government eventually allowed the ship to dock and hundreds of passengers disembarked.

But one of those passengers, an American woman, was stopped at the thermal scanners in Malaysia's Kuala Lumpur airport and later tested positive for the virus, The Times reported.

More than 1,000 other passengers left the ship at the same time, and The Times reported that many of them took flights to Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, where they intended to travel home.

The Times reported that many of those passengers went sightseeing locally or traveling internationally - on Sunday passengers were en route to destinations on at least three continents, in countries such as the United States, the Netherlands, and Australia.

Experts told the newspaper the best path forward would be to track down every passenger and quarantine them for two weeks.

One expert, William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told The Times the news could mark "a turning point" in the struggle to keep the outbreak confined mostly to China.

The news comes amid a global discourse over how to handle quarantined cruise ships with passengers from countries around the world.

One coronavirus-stricken cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, is carrying roughly 3,500 passengers and crew, with 286 people who tested positive for the virus. The ship is currently in Japan's port of Yokohama, and passengers have been mostly confined to their rooms since February 4.

In recent days, experts have decried the decision to keep passengers who have tested negative for coronavirus aboard. The quarantine poses a risk of spreading the coronavirus throughout the ship, the experts said.

"They've basically trapped a bunch of people in a large container with [the] virus," David Fisman, an epidemiology professor at University of Toronto, told Vox. "So [I'm] assuming 'quarantine' is generating active transmission."

Morgan McFall-Johnsen contributed to this report.

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