The diagnosis underscores the continuing uncertainty about whether, and to what degree, the average patient can spread coronavirus before they show symptoms.

By Ian Horswill


Posted on February 17, 2020

A frantic search is taking place after one of more than 300 passengers allowed to disembark cruise ship MS Westerdam and head home has been found to have the coronavirus (COVID-19).

Holland America’s MS Westerdam was stranded at sea for two weeks after Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Guam refused to let it dock because the cruise ship had disembarked in Hong Kong.

Cambodia allowed MS Westerdam to dock in its waters and began disembarking passengers on Friday. An 83-year-old US woman who got off with her husband flew to Malaysia with 145 other cruise passengers.

She later felt ill at the Kuala Lumpur airport and sought medical help. The Holland America cruise company, which operates MS Westerdam, confirmed that she had tested positive for coronavirus which originated in Wuhan, Hubei province, China.

coronavirus

A frantic effort is now taking place to try and trace the other passengers who disembarked to make certain they are screened for the coronavirus.

“We are in close coordination with some of the leading health experts from around the world,” Dr. Grant Tarling, chief medical officer for Holland America Line, said in a statement.

“These experts are working with the appropriate national health authorities to investigate and follow-up with individuals who may have come in contact with the guest.”

Holland America said it screened 1,445 passengers on board on 10 February and no-one had a high temperature.

“During the voyage there was no indication of COVID-19 on the ship,” it said.

Holland America added it tested just 20 patients for the virus— all of whom visited the on-ship medical clinic— and all were negative. The 83-year-old American woman never visited the clinic and was never tested.

If she was sick while on board the Westerdam and did not develop symptoms until later, it raises the question of whether other cruise passengers, who have gone on to final destinations, could fall into the same category.

The diagnosis underscores the continuing uncertainty about whether, and to what degree, the average patient can spread coronavirus before they show symptoms.

It also raises the question of whether the coronavirus has been present at Kuala Lumpur international airport and did any other disembarked passenger contract the virus before heading home.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has now killed 1,770 people in China, with another 105 more deaths reported today. Only five of those 105 deaths were reported outside of Hubei province (3 in Henan, and 2 in Guangdong). The total number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in China has risen by 2,048 to 70,548.