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Cruise ship passengers bumped from KLM flight in Malaysia

Wout Vergauwen and K. Oanh Ha

Bloomberg

 /  Sun, February 16, 2020  /  12:44 pm
Cruise ship passengers bumped from KLM flight in Malaysia

The travelers had been among the more than 2,200 passengers and crew on the Holland America Line’s Westerdam cruise ship, which was turned away by five ports before disembarking in Cambodia. (Bloomberg/File)

A number of passengers, including two Dutch citizens, were denied boarding for an Amsterdam-bound KLM flight departing from Kuala Lumpur, the Dutch foreign ministry said.

The travelers had been among the more than 2,200 passengers and crew on the Holland America Line’s Westerdam cruise ship, which was turned away by five ports before disembarking in Cambodia. An 83-year-old American passenger was diagnosed with the coronavirus a day after she left the ship.

The tourists who were kept from boarding KLM flight 810 are still in Malaysia, along with another group of Dutch citizens suspected to have had contact with the infected American woman. The Dutch RIVM National Institute for Public Health and the Environment estimated that 11 people weren’t allowed on the plane.

Holland America Line said in a statement late Saturday that the results of the test were preliminary and it was awaiting secondary testing for confirmation. The company said it was working with officials in Malaysia, Cambodia and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It said that all 2,257 passengers and crew aboard the Westerdam had been temperature-tested on Feb. 10 and that no one had an elevated temperature, disembarking passengers completed a written health questionnaire, and the passports of everyone aboard were reviewed to ensure they hadn’t traveled through mainland China in the previous 14 days.

It said there was “no indication” of the coronavirus during the voyage.

Testing for coronavirus was conducted on 20 passengers who had either self-reported symptoms like coughing or gastrointestinal issues -- and those came back negative, according to Cambodia’s health ministry.

‘Definite risk’

The testing on those passengers followed established protocols for testing the virus, said Li Ailan, the World Health Organization’s representative in Cambodia. The WHO provided guidance to the Cambodian health ministry to help deal with the clearing of passengers.

“These passengers have been on the ship for almost 14 days -- they’re at the end of the two-week incubation period,” said Li, speaking Friday before news of the Malaysian infected case broke. “The health declarations are a good way to screen.”

Some passengers reported that the ship also took people’s temperatures upon disembarking -- though it was unclear if there was a procedure in place had they reported a spike.

The infected passenger now elevates the risk for those on the ship who are returning to their homes.

“There’s a possibility that anyone who is infected and asymptomatic could start a chain of infection wherever they return to,” said Stanley Deresinski, a Stanford University professor of infectious disease and a specialist at the university hospital. “That’s a definite risk.”

The latest case raised the question of whether the virus’s incubation period is longer than the two-week period that’s been the guideline since it emerged in China’s Hubei province in recent weeks, he said.

“We really just don’t know for sure,” he said.

A number of Dutch citizens who were aboard the Westerdam have already returned to the Netherlands, where they will be monitored daily by local health authorities.

Ninety-one Dutch citizens were aboard the cruise liner, a spokesman for the RIVM said by phone. He couldn’t confirm the number of Dutch passengers who had already returned to the Netherlands.

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