An Australian couple are stranded at sea on a cruise ship that is unable to dock because one passenger could be infected with coronavirus.
David and Judy Holst, from South Australia, are aboard a Holland America vessel currently circling around in the ocean east of Taiwan.
Since Sunday, the cruise ship has been denied entry into the Phillipines, Taiwan and most recently, Japan.
Japanese leader Shinzo Abe said no foreigners on board the MS Westerdam would be allowed to disembark in the country on Friday.
Tokyo said one passenger aboard the ship, which stopped in Hong Kong and is carrying 2,257 people, was believed to have the deadly virus.
Mr Holst posted a Facebook update on Friday: ‘We are now officially abandoned at sea. We are the white circle with blue arrow on the map.
‘Our cruise is over, sort of. No country will take us. But we are still at sea.’
Mr and Mrs began their cruise on January 16 when it departed from Singapore before stopping in Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Their cruise stopped in Hong Kong for six hours on February 1, where it picked up 1,100 passengers despite the city having a red alert for coronavirus.
The next day, the boat was denied entry into Manila in the Philippines and forced to circle around at sea.
‘It was greed and stupidity when Holland America sent our ship into Hong Kong yesterday given HK is on red alert,’ Mr Holst wrote on Facebook at the time.
‘They did not even bother to offer face masks to passengers going ashore and we did not see any temperature screening for those joining the cruise.
‘Totally avoidable situation if HA had acted more responsibly.’
After three days at sea, passengers were allowed to disembark for the day in Kaohsiung, Taiwan on Tuesday, which Mr Holst described as ‘a nice day at last’.
However, his happiness was short lived as the boat was denied entry into the Taiwanese capital of Taipei on Wednesday.
The vessel then headed for Ishigaki Island in Japan but on Thursday, they were denied entry into the country.
The Adelaide man added that staying in quarantine on Christmas Island ‘seems a great option at this point in time’ since ‘they have land there’.
Come Saturday, the Holsts will have been trapped at sea for a total of seven days, in which time they would have only spent six hours on land.
The next scheduled stop after Japan was South Korea but it has now been wiped from their itinerary.
Mr Holst said passengers are now very frustrated and guards have begun patrolling the cruise ship.
In his latest update on Friday night, Mr Holst wrote: ‘Yes it has been stressful and distressing and my bad humour is a cover for the deep angst we feel.
‘Having the virus hanging over your head while squashed in a boat is scary.’
The boat is now heading south west from Taiwan and the captain advised they were moving to ‘better position us for all options’ but did not mention an exact location.
The ship was left with nowhere to go after Japan closed its borders to foreign passengers aboard the vessel on Friday.
The ship turned back to Taiwan, but it has also rejected the ship’s request to dock.
However, the Holland America cruise line denied that there were any known cases of coronavirus on board the vessel.
Japan is already holding one ship – the Diamond Princess – in quarantine in Yokohama after 61 passengers became infected with coronavirus.
Passengers on the Westerdam say the ship has already been refused entry to the Philippines and Taiwan over the virus fears.
One tourist, Stephen Hansen, voiced fears that the ship will endure the same two-week quarantine which Diamond Princess passengers are facing.
In its most recent update, the cruise operator said passengers would now be disembarking in Yokohama rather than in Shanghai as originally planned.
But Japan appears to have wrecked those plans today by announcing that it would use immigration laws to block entry to foreign passengers.
Holland America insisted on Thursday that ‘the ship is not in quarantine and there are no known cases of coronavirus on board’.
‘We are quickly working to develop alternate plans and are keeping guests updated on board as information becomes available,’ a statement said.
‘We are closely monitoring the evolving situation with respect to coronavirus that originated in mainland China.’
Guests who have recently travelled from mainland China, Hong Kong, or Macau or had contact with a suspected coronavirus patient will not be allowed to board, the company said.
Passengers will also be subject to medical checks before they board, with any suspected cases reported to nearby health authorities.
The ship’s 14-day cruise began in Hong Kong on February 1, although nearly 700 guests were already on the ship and stayed on from a previous voyage.
More than 2,600 passengers are confined in their cabins on board the Diamond Princess, which has been held off the coast of Yokohama since Monday night.
Japan quarantined the ship after an 80-year-old former passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong last month tested positive for the virus.
All the passengers and crew were screened for the virus and hundreds selected for further tests, some of them after showing possible symptoms.
The quarantined ship has been shuttling between Yokohama Bay and the open sea, where it is collecting seawater to be converted for use in showers and drinking water.
British passenger David Abel has provided regular updates from his ninth-deck cabin with tourists facing another 12 days of quarantine.
Mr Abel yesterday described how luxury dinners had been replaced with rationed food delivered by staff in face masks.
Some passengers have shared pictures of their food including bread rolls with cheese and meat, plates of chicken with rice, and a chocolate dessert.
One cabin had a sign on its door with a request for English Breakfast teabags.
Meanwhile in Hong Kong, 3,600 people were preparing to spend a second night confined aboard the World Dream after eight former passengers tested positive.
Port health official Leung Yiu Hong said yesterday that more than 30 crew members had symptoms such as fever, coughing or a sore throat.
City health officials in Hong Kong said passengers would only be allowed off the World Dream after tests were completed.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong authorities announced that anyone arriving from the Chinese mainland from Saturday would face a mandatory two-week quarantine.
The move is the city’s strictest measure yet amid ongoing strikes calling for the border with mainland China to be completely sealed.
The city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, has suspended some links with the mainland and closed some border crossings but she has left three open.
The health scare comes after months of violent anti-government protests in Hong Kong sparked by fears that its autonomy was being eroded by Beijing.
Some pro-democracy protesters have come out in support of the strike, with some demonstrations beginning to resemble the wider protests.
The outbreak has rekindled memories in Hong Kong of a 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), another coronavirus that began in China and killed nearly 300 people in the city.
Hong Kong health workers and members of other trade unions have demanded the border with the mainland be completely sealed.
Two dozen countries now have confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus that emerged from a Wuhan market selling exotic animals at the end of last year.
As of Thursday, China had 563 virus deaths and 28,018 confirmed cases on the mainland. Two other virus deaths occurred in Hong Kong and the Philippines.