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Scramble to trace passengers from cruise ship after one tests positive

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American woman tests positive for Covid-19 in Malaysia, three days after disembarking in Cambodia; 99 more cases on ship in Japan

PHNOM PENH: A scramble intensified yesterday to trace passengers from a US cruise ship allowed to disembark in Cambodia after at least one traveller was later diagnosed with the deadly Covid-19 virus.

The Westerdam was at sea for two weeks during which it was barred from Japan, Guam, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Thailand over fears it could be carrying the virus.

The virus has killed at least 1,770 in China and infected at least 70,540.

On Thursday, Cambodia allowed the ship to dock at Sihanoukville and hundreds of passengers disembarked.

It was met by Cambodia's premier, who hugged disembarking passengers.

But on Sunday, one Westerdam passenger, an 83-year-old American, was stopped on arrival in Malaysia and later diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Yesterday, Malaysia said over 130 other passengers who also took the flight with the sick American woman left for the US, Europe, Australia and Hong Kong.

Two Singaporeans from the MS Westerdam have been quarantined in Singapore but no other passengers will be allowed into the country, Singapore's Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong told reporters yesterday.

Thailand, a flight hub already used by scores of the Westerdam passengers, yesterday 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.

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 officer Dr Grant Tarling said late Sunday.

Meanwhile, on the Diamond Princess, anchored off the coast of Japan, an additional 99 people have tested positive, Japanese media said yesterday, citing new figures from the Health Ministry. That would take the total number of positive cases on board to 454.

It was not clear whether the figures included 14 US citizens who tested positive for the virus but were allowed to board evacuation flights home.

The US state department said that after the more than 300 passengers were sent to the airport, officials discovered 14 had tested positive. They were isolated on the flight and permitted to fly home, it said.


In a separate development, a special meeting on the coronavirus outbreak will be held between China and Asean countries, Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

The meeting will be attended by Chinese Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi and his counterparts from Asean, and is scheduled between tomorrow and Friday in Vientiane, Laos.

Mr Geng said Mr Wang would discuss China's measures in countering the epidemic.

He said the meeting would also explore ideas on the setting up of a long-term and effective collaboration mechanism on public health to safeguard the people in this region.

"China and Asean countries have been in close communication. For the two sides to hold a special meeting within such a short period has shown our determination in supporting each other through the difficulties," he said. - REUTERS, AFP, THE STAR