A passenger on a cruise ship with almost 150 sick people has expressed concern their illness will spread after finding hairs in his food.
Earlier this week, it was reported 42 crew members and passengers had been complaining of flu-like symptoms on the Zaandam liner run by Holland America.
Passengers on board told Nine News the captain announced on Thursday morning the numbers have increased to 86 crew members and 58 passengers.
Holland America has confirmed COVID-19 testing is not available on board but those feeling sick are in isolation.
The ship has asked all passengers to remain in their rooms "out of an abundance of caution" where they are provided their meals by room service.
In a Facebook page dedicated to the crew, passengers and family and friends of those onboard the cruise, a man from Mexico wrote on Wednesday he was concerned the deadly virus could spread to others onboard through unsanitary meals.
“This is not a critic nor an intent to make HAL look bad or anything...this happens in any kitchen and it’s completely understandable,” he started.
“I know it’s kind of inevitable but… if food keeps arriving with hairs in it, how are we supposed to trust it’s COVID-19 or germ free?”
The man said he knows the liner is trying to keep passengers safe and staff are exhausted, but he has seen “various unsanitary practices.”
Along with his post, he attached images of hair in two plates of food and a photo of staff crowded in a hallway while stacking used silver trays and plates.
“The used trays on the floor! To re-use them again and bring them inside our rooms, beds and tables later on…people without gloves and masks cleaning up our food residues, or leaving the food trays without any kind of protection,” he wrote.
“Also, there are more crew members infected than passengers, so we are worried that they may be in direct contact with everyone’s food.”
In a bid to help the 1,700 others on board, the man urged passengers to help by cleaning their used plates in the rooms.
“Please let’s all together try to figure out a more sanitary way to avoid contamination.”
Other group members agreed with the man.
“The biggest concern is the stainless steel trays and containers - viruses live on stainless steel for up to 3 days!” one said.
“When lifting the trays into your room don't use your bare hands use tissues or even paper. I like to think the staff are using germ killing spray and wipes for these trays and food containers before and after every use!”
Another said the images were “worrying.”
A Holland America spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia they are aware of the passenger’s images and “have communicated with the ship so they can reinforce social distancing”.
“Our teams are working hard under these extreme circumstances (especially after meal service, seen here) while taking care of our guests. Procedures and policies have been put into place and we will remind them of this policy.”
‘Please don't forget us’
The Zaandam left Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7 and was supposed to arrive last Saturday at San Antonio, near Santiago in Chile.
Its plight is the latest affecting the global cruise industry, which has seen vessels refused entry to ports and others locked down after new-coronavirus cases were confirmed onboard during the pandemic.
Along the way, the Zaandam docked in Punta Arenas, in Chile's far south, before leaving there just days before Chilean President Sebastian Pinera closed the country's borders on March 18.
Soon after, the company suspended all its cruises due to measures including the closure of land, air and sea borders imposed by governments all over the world to prevent the pandemic's spread.
It headed back to Punta Arenas in a bid to arrange for its more than 1,200 passengers and almost 600 crew to take flights back to their home countries.
"Despite previous confirmations that guests could disembark in Punta Arenas, Chile, for flights, we were not permitted to do so," Holland America said in a statement on its website.
"No one has been off the ship since March 14 in Punta Arenas."
Passengers are now desperately hoping to be allowed to dock -- somewhere.
"Testing times," Australian couple Dimiti and Neal Bates wrote on Facebook. There are a reported 131 Aussies onboard.
"Please don't forget us."
Holland America said "all ports along Zaandam's route are closed to cruise ships" and so it had sent another liner, the Rotterdam, from Puerto Vallarta in Mexico to meet the Zaandam this Thursday off the coast of Panama.
The Rotterdam is carrying "extra supplies, staff, COVID-19 test kits and other support as needed" to transfer to the Zaandam.
The aim is to reach Fort Lauderdale, Florida in the US on March 30, "however we are still working on securing a reservation to transit the Panama Canal," the company said.
"Alternative options are also being developed."
- with AFP
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.