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Cruise passengers scatter as virus fears intensify

2020-02-17 HKT 20:29
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  • Passengers leave the Westerdam on Saturday. Photo: AP
    Passengers leave the Westerdam on Saturday. Photo: AP
A scramble intensified on Monday to trace passengers from a US cruise liner allowed to disembark in Cambodia despite at least one traveller later being diagnosed with the deadly coronavirus.

There are fears scores of cruise goers have been scattered across the world without full health checks – as Cambodia on Monday afternoon treated a few dozen of the passengers to bus tours around the capital Phnom Penh.

Passenger Christina Kerby, whose drole 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 said.

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, which originated in China and has killed nearly 1,800 people.

On Thursday Cambodia, a staunch ally of Beijing, allowed the ship to dock at Sihanoukville.

It was met by the kingdom's bombastic premier, who hugged disembarking passengers as he swiftly latched on to the Westerdam's PR potential for a nation more often in the spotlight for human rights abuses.

His stance won applause from US President Donald Trump.

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

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

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. (AFP)