More than 2,000 people are stranded on Holland America cruise ship

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More than 2,000 people are marooned at sea after four countries denied entry to a cruise ship over coronavirus fears – despite the crew’s insistence that there are no virus cases on board. 

Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and the US territory of Guam have all denied permission for the MS Westerdam to dock. 

Japanese leader Shinzo Abe yesterday said his country would not allow foreign passengers to disembark, saying there were suspected virus patients on board.    

However, cruise operator Holland America said last night that ‘the ship is not in quarantine and there are no known cases of coronavirus on board’.

The Westerdam left Hong Kong on February 1, with 687 passengers remaining on board from a previous voyage. 

There are 1,455 passengers and 802 crew on board, a total of 2,257 people. 

One passenger, Bev Thurbin, said the ship had been denied entry to the Philippines and then to Taiwan over virus fears. 

The vessel then sailed to Japan, with the cruise operator saying that passengers would disembark in Yokohama rather than Shanghai as initially planned. 

But Japan wrecked those plans yesterday by announcing it would use immigration laws to block the entry of foreign passengers from the ship. 

Transport minister Kazuyoshi Akaba later went further and said Japan had asked the cruise ship not to call at the country’s ports. 

Four other ships are scheduled to arrive in Japan this month, and would also be asked to turn back if infections are reported on board, Abe said. 

The Westerdam’s problems mounted further when the governor of Guam, a US territory, rejected a State Department request to allow the ship to dock there.  

‘While we feel for every soul on board the MS Westerdam, our obligation is to protect the people of Guam,’ Leon Guerrero said. 

‘Though Guam is prepared to deal with the potential implications of the coronavirus, few jurisdictions can screen, quarantine, or treat 1,400 patients at one time.’ 

Australian passenger David Holst said today that the ship’s captain had not yet revealed where the Westerdam was going next. 

‘After about 15 hours of being stationary in the middle of nowhere we are now moving south west,’ he said. 

‘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. ‘

Holland America maintains that there are no cases on board, saying it had imposed stringent hygiene measures to prevent an outbreak.   

‘We are quickly working to develop alternate plans and are keeping guests updated on board as information becomes available,’ a Holland America statement said. 

‘We are closely monitoring the evolving situation with respect to coronavirus that originated in mainland China.’

Any guests who suffer breathing problems will be screened for coronavirus, the company said. 

Suspected virus cases will be reported to the health authorities of nearby countries. 

There are also stringent checks on who will be allowed to board the ship, although it is unclear when that will next happen.  

Japan is already holding one cruise ship, the Diamond Princness, in quarantine with 61 virus cases confirmed. 

The number trebled from 20 last night after test results for 171 passengers came back and showed 41 new cases. 

The newly diagnosed are 21 Japanese nationals, as well as eight Americans, five Canadians, five Australians, a Briton and an Argentine. 

The Briton was later named as Alan Steele, who was separated from his new wife Wendy and taken off the Diamond Princess after learning his test results.

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