Another cruise ship is facing a coronavirus lockdown after Japan today closed its doors to foreign passengers on a vessel feared to be carrying a virus patient.
Japanese leader Shinzo Abe said no foreigners on board the MS Westerdam would be allowed to disembark in the country.
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.
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 with at least 20 passengers infected.
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, has 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.
Health Minister Katsunobu Kato told parliament on Thursday that results for 102 people had now come in, with 20 testing positive.
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.