A cruise ship on which three mainland Chinese travellers diagnosed with the new coronavirus had previously sailed was forced to return to Hong Kong on Wednesday, with dozens of crew claiming to feel unwell.
Department of Health staff have boarded the World Dream to conduct medical checks and carry out anti-epidemic measures on the 3,600 passengers and crew on board.
The cruise, which travelled from China to Vietnam in January, was forced to return to Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Cruise Terminal at about 9am on Wednesday after being told by the Taiwan government it would not be allowed to dock at its next port of call in Kaohsiung.
On Monday, the three mainland passengers who had travelled on the ship from January 19 to January 24 were found to be infected with the deadly virus.
The World Dream sailed from Nansha port in Guangzhou for Vietnam carrying more than 4,000 passengers at that time.
Dr Leung Yiu-hong, chief port health officer at the Centre for Health Protection, said of the crew members that reported feeling unwell, three had a fever and one of those tested positive for type B flu.
“All the three crew members running a fever before will be sent to hospital for quarantine,” he said. “The remaining 27 crew members have minor symptoms of upper respiratory infection such as coughing and a sore throat. Our staff are now taking their samples for testing the coronavirus.”
Leung said temperature screening and quarantine measures would be conducted on all the 1,800 passengers, and 1,800 crew members, and assured the public officials would wait for the results before deciding on the next course of action.
“We would like to see the lab results to see if further measures need to be conducted. We would like to reassure the public that we’re adopting a prudent approach,” he said.
A passenger on board who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he was disappointed his tour agent and the cruise company, Genting Cruise Lines, had failed to tell passengers the ship had carried infected passengers.
“If I knew about this, I would not have come on board,” he said in a telephone interview.
Another passenger, calling herself Ms MM, said there were announcements on board at 12.09pm that health checks were still being conducted on crew members, which delayed them clearing immigration.
“We have been waiting for hours, though we have been offered meals in restaurants and entertainment on board,” she said.
The two passengers said they were not informed of the infected patients until Tuesday, when the news broke on board and Taiwan authorities denied the ship entry into Kaohsiung.
Dream Cruises, the operator of the cruise, said all passengers had received stringent temperature checks in Guangzhou Nansha upon disembarkation on January 24.
“At that time, all passengers tested returned negative results. For the cruise that departed from Guangzhou Nansha on 24 January 2020, all guests from Hubei had been prohibited from boarding in view of the latest requirements from the authorities,” the company said, adding all other passengers and crew passed body temperature checks and submitted health declarations before boarding.
It said there was no passenger on board who held People’s Republic of China passports.
The company said as a precaution, crew members that worked in the affected cabins had been isolated in their quarters, and had their temperature checked daily.
“As of February 4, Dream Cruises has sealed-off the cabins in which the affected guests had previously stayed. I am also pleased to report that, since January 24 onwards, there have been no virus-related health issues among any members of our crew,” a spokesman said.
Earlier, Dream Cruises had said it would offer a free shuttle bus service from Kai Tak Cruise Terminal to Kowloon Bay MTR station and Lam Tin MTR station, but health officials quashed that idea.