'Mass hysteria': Thousands stuck on cruise ship amid coronavirus scare

As the coronavirus death toll continues to rise, holiday-makers are being forced to make last minute plans to avoid China as travel companies and cruise ships scramble to reroute tours away from the country.

Numerous cruise companies have updated itineraries to avoid China’s mainland, where major ports such as Shanghai have become eerily quiet.

“The cruise terminals in Shanghai are deserted. Nobody is travelling,” local tug boat operator Chichen Chen told the Wall Street Journal.

“It’s mass hysteria and fear now and nobody is saying when it will be over.”

It comes as the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus a global health emergency. An offical from China told AFP the death toll from the virus had increased to 212 as of Friday, with more than 9000 cases being treated worldwide.

Passengers stranded on moored cruise ship

On Thursday, local time, more than 6,000 passengers, reportedly including 27 Australians, were left trapped on board a Costa Crociere cruise ship as it was put in lockdown while moored in an Italian port north of Rome over coronavirus fears.

A 54-year-old Chinese woman and her husband were placed in an isolation unit on the ship and passengers were not allowed to disembark for several hours in the city of Civitavecchia, before the couple were cleared by doctors.

Passengers on board the ship were forced to stay on board over a coronavirus scare before the couple were cleared. Source: AAP/Twitter
Passengers on board the ship were forced to stay on board over a coronavirus scare before the couple were cleared. Source: AAP/Twitter

The woman, who boarded the ship on January 25 in the port of Savona, came down with a fever and flu-like symptoms prompting the lockdown.

While initial reports suggested some passengers were permitted to leave the ship, local authorities refused to allow those on board to set foot on land until samples taken from the couple were tested at a centre specialising in infectious diseases and viruses in Rome.

“I have asked the authorities not to permit the disembarkment until we are sure there is no risk,” the local mayor Ernesto Tedesco told Reuters.

Journalists set up in front of the Costa Smeralda cruise ship docked in the Civitavecchia port with more than 6,000 tourists stuck on borad. Source: Getty
Journalists set up in front of the Costa Smeralda cruise ship docked in the Civitavecchia port with more than 6,000 tourists stuck on borad. Source: Getty

Cruise ships cancel trips to China

Royal Caribbean International, the world’s biggest cruise operator, said it has cancelled three cruises by its China-based Spectrum of the Seas liner including a four-day sail from Shanghai to Okinawa in Japan.

Cruise giant Holland America will reroute its Westerdam ship which is scheduled to leave Hong Kong on Saturday for a 14-day cruise around Taiwan and Japan, to now avoid Shanghai.

“Cruise turnarounds will take place in Yokohoma, Japan, instead of Shanghai or Hong Kong,” the company said.

The company also assured passengers it would also deny boarding for persons who have recently visited the epicentre of the disease, Hubei Province.

US luxury cruise line Seabourn has also cancelled a scheduled stop by Seabourn Ovation to Xiamen, China, citing the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Level 3 travel warning to the country.

However, the company said it currently still plans to dock at Hong Kong.

Royal Caribbean Cruises has cancelled three trips of its China-based cruise liner following advice from health authorities. On Wednesday, local time, the publicly listed US company said its earning would take a considerable hit due to the cancelations.

According to the Wall Street Journal, around 2.4 million Chinese citizens took cruises in 2018. Chinese tourists provide the second-largest passenger volume by nationality behind the United States.

Meanwhile, Switzerland-based cruise company MSC Cruises said that it canceled a cruise out of Shanghai to Nagasaki in Japan on Tuesday after “urgent guidelines” from the Chinese government.

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Other cruise companies have also been forced to abandon their China plans as concerns grow over the economic hit both China and the world’s economy can expect from the coronavirus outbreak.

Despite cruise liners avoiding mainline China and opting not to dock in Shanghai, as of Thursday night Qantas said there were no changes to its flights to Beijing and Shanghai.

Numerous other airlines have pulled flights to China however Australia’s national carrier says flights will likely continue unless the airline is directed to halt flights by the federal government.

Russia closes Chinese border as Europe evacuates citizens

China has reported 170 deaths and at least 8,000 infections have been confirmed worldwide from the virus that emerged last month in the central city of Wuhan.

Sports, transport and cultural events have been cancelled across the country and over 50 million people are under a government lockdown in central China.

The number of confirmed cases in Australia has risen to nine by Friday morning while in Europe there have been 10 confirmed cases of the virus so far.

In Moscow, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin issued a decree ordering the temporary closure of the country’s border with China, which extends for 4,200 kilometres.

In addition, all train traffic between the two countries, except for one train connecting Moscow and Beijing, has been stopped.

Hundreds of people wait in a queue to buy surgical masks as coronavirus spreads in Hong Kong. Source: AAP
Hundreds of people wait in a queue to buy surgical masks as coronavirus spreads in Hong Kong. Source: AAP

An A380 evacuation flight left a military base in Portugal Thursday carrying just pilots and crew. It will pick up a team of doctors and extra crew, before heading to Hanoi and then China to bring back about 350 Europeans.

Britain said its delayed repatriation flight for about 200 UK citizens in Wuhan would leave there on Friday, with the returning Britons quarantined for 14 days upon arrival. The plane was delayed because permissions from the Chinese government had not come through.

On Friday morning, the ABC reported that the Australian government has permission from China to repatriate up to 600 Australians still in China’s Hubei province but details of the flight are still being discussed.

Australian authorities have previously announced that repatriated citizens would be taken to Christmas Island to be quarantined.

With AP

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