An image has emerged of a group of joyful cruise passengers touring Phnom Penh hours before it was revealed they and scores of others may have been exposed to coronavirus.
The group had been given a clean bill of health by Cambodian officials and were allowed off the Westerdam cruise in Sihanoukville following the ship’s docking on Thursday.
Cambodia, a staunch ally of China, was praised by the US for allowing the ship to dock – a move rejected by multiple countries over fears there were passengers on board with coronavirus.
Departing passengers were met by Cambodia's bombastic premier Hun Sen who even gave out hugs as he swiftly latched on to the Westerdam's PR potential for a nation more often in the spotlight for human rights abuses.
Waiting for a flight out of the Cambodian capital, scores of mostly American tourists from the vessel were given a tour of the city by Cambodian officials and appeared overjoyed after weeks of isolation on board the Westerdam.
Yet unbeknown to the group, they had potentially been exposed to the deadly virus after an 83-year-old American woman later tested positive to the virus during a layover in Kuala Lumpur.
Scramble to find cruise passengers who may be infected
On Monday, Malaysia said over 130 passengers who also took the flight with the woman left for the US, Europe and Australia and Hong Kong.
A scramble intensified on Tuesday to identify scores of cruise-goers who have since dispersed to various parts of the globe.
Passenger Christina Kerby, whose droll tweets as the Westerdam was bounced across ports drew widespread attention, admitted she "was surprised" to be allowed on a tour of the Cambodian capital before being given the complete all-clear from the virus.
"I have young kids back home (in the US) and wouldn't want to risk infecting them or anyone around me if I am carrying the virus," she told AFP.
Travel bans considered
Thailand, a flight hub already used by scores of the Westerdam passengers, on Monday mulled a ban on transit by cruise-goers, as the region played catch-up to the risks posed by the boat.
"Passengers on ship are at risk and travel by airplane will cause risk to other passengers," health minister Anutin Charnvirakul said Monday.
Cruise operator Holland America is working with national health authorities "to investigate and follow up with individuals who may have come in contact with the guest", chief medical offiicer Dr Grant Tarling said late Sunday.
Another 233 passengers and 747 crew remain on the Westerdam, which is still docked at Sihanoukville.
Authorities have been allowing them to leave the vessel in groups based on their flight bookings but those on board told AFP they are now not permitted to disembark.
A Sihanoukville spokesman said Monday health samples are being collected from all on board the Westerdam "in order to be clear", adding that passengers will not go off-ship until the tests are completed.
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