Coronavirus diagnosis of the American passenger raises new fears

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Tang Chhin Sothy / AFP via Getty

Officials are trying to track down passengers who have come into contact with an American woman who has been tested positive for coronavirus after leaving a cruise ship that is said to be insect-free.

The nightmare scenario associated with the MS Westerdam, which is docked in Cambodia, came when the United States evacuated Americans from another cruise ship, the Diamond Princess. More than 300 passengers, including 44 Americans, were infected on this trip.

The MS Westerdam was stranded at sea for two weeks after Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines and Guam refused to let her dock because she had stopped in Hong Kong.

It was finally allowed to dock in Cambodia and started getting off passengers on Friday. An 83-year-old American who got off with her husband flew to Malaysia with 145 other cruise passengers.

Later she felt sick at Kuala Lumpur Airport and sought medical help. The cruise company Holland America confirmed on Sunday that it had tested positive for COVID-19 because the new corona virus from Wuhan, China, was named.

Health officials now need to find other travelers who have since dispersed to ensure that they are checked for the infectious disease.

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“We are working closely with some of the leading health professionals from around the world,” said Dr. Grant Tarling, Chief Medical Officer of Holland America Line, in a statement.

“These experts work with the relevant national health authorities to investigate and track people who may have come into contact with the guest.”

Holland America said it examined 1,445 passengers on board on February 10 and found no elevated temperatures. “There was no evidence of COVID-19 on the ship during the voyage,” it said.

However, the cruise company said it only tested 20 patients for the virus – all visited the medical clinic on the ship – and all were negative. But the 83-year-old American never visited the clinic and was never tested.

If she was sick on board the Westerdam and developed symptoms later, the question arises as to whether other cruise passengers who traveled to final destinations could fall into the same category.

The diagnosis highlights the continuing uncertainty as to whether and to what extent the average patient can spread the coronavirus before showing symptoms.

As the situation developed in Westerdam, the United States evacuated Americans who were quarantined on another cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, where 335 people were infected with coronavirus.

At least some of them will need to be quarantined for another two weeks once they get back to the U.S. Matthew Smith, who recorded the quarantine on board on Twitter, said he and his wife had decided to stay behind.

COVID-19 killed 1,665 people in China, 142 of them on Sunday, the government said. But the number of new cases declined for a third day, Chinese officials quickly stressed.

“The impact of preventing and fighting epidemics in different parts of the country is already evident,” said Mi Feng, a spokesman for the National Health Commission, according to the Agence France Presse.

However, the head of the World Health Organization warned that “it is impossible to predict the direction this epidemic will go”.

This unpredictability was seen in Taiwan, where officials found that the first person to die from coronavirus was a taxi driver who fell ill after picking up passengers from China, Hong Kong, and Macau. One of the man’s family members also tested positive. The officers there are now trying to find out who was in the man’s cabin.

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