Nearly 800 Cruise Passengers Coronavirus-Free, Health Ministry Says

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Passengers of the Holland America Line’s Westerdam cruise ship wave in Sihanoukville on February 14, 2020. (Panha Chorpoan/VOD)

Nearly 800 passengers of a cruise ship that docked in Cambodia after other countries turned it away over coronavirus fears have tested negative for the virus, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.

The last 233 passengers on the Holland America Line’s Westerdam departed the ship and traveled to Phnom Penh, from where they would continue their journey home, the Transport Ministry said in a Facebook post.

The Westerdam made international headlines this month after several Asian nations denied it access to their ports due to concerns that people aboard could be infected with Covid-19. The new viral strain has infected some 75,000 people in nearly 30 nations, and killed almost 2,000 people in China, where it was first detected in late December.

Malaysia confirmed over the weekend that one disembarked Westerdam passenger, a U.S. woman, had tested positive for the virus.

Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and South Korea have each said that they would not allow the ship’s passengers to transit through their points of entry, which has left some in Phnom Penh struggling to secure flights home.

Holland America on Wednesday said that the 781 Westerdam passengers remaining in Cambodia, of more than 2,000 people originally on board, were cleared to travel home after testing negative for Covid-19.

The ship, which departed Hong Kong on February 1, would remain docked in Sihanoukville for at least a few more days until testing of the 747 crew members remaining on board was finished, the cruise line said in a statement.

Health Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine told VOD that the 781 passengers—some who were tested on the ship and others who were already in Phnom Penh—who tested negative did not have “health-related problems at all.”

Vandine declined to comment when asked about the passenger who tested positive in Malaysia.

“We’re trying our best to have health screenings, laboratory tests for the samples of the passengers that we collected, and we are waiting for all the results to come out,” she said.

During a speech in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen stood by his decision to allow the Westerdam to dock at the Sihanoukville port last week.

“If Cambodia did not allow it to dock, what would have been the fate of that ship and the more than 2,000 people by this time?” Hun Sen said.

“We have to continue to work until we’re finished and the ship leaves safely,” he added.

A Holland America representative told a few hundred cruise passengers at the Sokha Phnom Penh Hotel on Wednesday morning that 124 guests had flown out of the capital on Tuesday, and she believed about the same number would fly out on Wednesday.

The cruise line representative warned travelers not to book flights themselves through the countries that had been blocking Westerdam guests, and advised them not to post about their itineraries on social media

“There are a lot of countries that are sensitive about this right now, and it’s not helpful to us when the PR is not positive,” she said.

Additional reporting by Matt Surrusco and Danielle Keeton-Olsen

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