Cayman turns away cruise ship amid coronavirus concerns

Cruise line says decision ‘based on fears'

The MSC Meraviglia, seen here in this file photo, was denied entry to the Cayman Islands.

A cruise ship carrying a crew member who had been isolated on board with flu-like symptoms was denied entry to the Cayman Islands on Wednesday.

The MSC Meraviglia, carrying 4,488 passengers and more than 1,600 crew, had been scheduled to arrive in George Town on Wednesday, but the Cayman Islands government refused to allow the ship to dock.

A day earlier, the ship arrived in Ocho Rios in Jamaica, but Jamaican authorities would not allow passengers to disembark after it was discovered that a sick crew member on board the ship had travelled to the Philippines within the last two weeks. According to the Philippines health authorities, there were three confirmed cases of coronavirus, or COVID-19, in the country as of 26 Feb., including one death from the disease.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Cayman Islands Health Minister Dwayne Seymour said, “In an abundance of caution, in order to provide protection to the health and safety of the residents of the Cayman Islands, the Government has denied permission for the cruise ship to call on Grand Cayman as previously scheduled.”

Cayman’s Public Health Department and the Ministry of Health, the statement said, were aware that the cruise ship scheduled to arrive in Grand Cayman Wednesday had been denied landing in Jamaica.

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It said, according to the Ministry of Health and Wellness in Jamaica, a member of the ship’s crew has been placed in isolation, suffering from “a cough, fever and associated muscle pains”.

“The Ministry of Health and the Public Health department have reviewed the medical details of the person who has been isolated, and the details of one other member of the ship’s complement who is not well. Both appear to be in a stable condition,” it said.

However, the cruise line disputed that Cayman’s health authorities had reviewed the medical records.

In a statement, MSC Cruises said it was “extremely disappointed that Jamaican authorities [on Tuesday] delayed a decision for many hours to give our ship the necessary clearance to disembark guests, despite us having provided detailed medical records to the local health and national authorities ahead of its arrival as per normal protocol.

“Similarly, the decision taken overnight by the Grand Cayman authorities to refuse disembarkation at [George Town] was made without even reviewing the ship’s medical records, which show one single case of common seasonal flu (type A influenza) affecting one crew member with a travel history clearly showing no passages through territories either affected by COVID-19 (Coronavirus) or subject to any international health restrictions. In both instances, the ship was effectively turned away simply based on fears.”

The cruise line said the crew member had travelled to Miami from Manila, via a direct connection in Istanbul.

Earlier on Tuesday, Premier Alden McLaughlin had said the crew member was tested in Jamaica and did not have COVID-19.

“However, we are taking all possible precautions and the [Chief Medical Officer] is currently getting travel history, etc. We will err on the side of caution and if it is considered that there is any risk at all, the ship will be asked not to call in the morning,” McLaughlin said.

As of Tuesday, according to the World Health Organization, there were 80,239 confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and 2,700 deaths from the virus.

According to MSC Cruises, the ship’s next port of call on its 14-day cruise is Cozumel, Mexico. It said the ship’s command and the company’s management were in contact with the Mexican health authorities “to ensure that their decision will be based on a factual review of the ship’s medical records, as well as consideration for the pre-embarkation screening and on board medical and deep sanitation protocols that are in place across MSC Cruises’ entire fleet.”

On Wednesday, Alejandra Aguirre Crespo, the health secretary in Quintana Roo in Cozumel, said Mexican health authorities were satisfied that the ship’s crew member did not have coronavirus. The Meraviglia is scheduled to arrive in Cozumel at 9am Thursday.

A letter from the Meraviglia captain, Stefano Bartinelli, to the ship’s passengers was posted on social media by one of the passengers on Wednesday. It stated that all the ship’s guests and crew members were screened individually upon embarkation, in terms of their travel history and health.

“The crew member that has developed symptoms of common flu had embarked at the beginning of the cruise in Miami after passing the mandatory health screening that all our guests and crew members receive before joining the cruise,” the letter stated.

MSC Cruises on Tuesday issued updated guidelines for passengers and crew regarding the coronavirus outbreak, but stated that “there have been no cases of coronavirus on board any of our ships”.

On its website, the cruise line stated that it is conducting pre-boarding screening by thermal cameras “to exclude persons who may be at risk, and passengers with signs or symptoms of illness such as fever (≥38 C°/100.4 F°) or feverishness, chills, cough or difficulty breathing will be denied embarkation”.

It added that it was denying access to anyone who had travelled to, from or through mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, or certain towns in central northern Italy in the past 14 days.

Earlier this month, Holland America’s MS Westerdam was turned away from several countries before finally being allowed to dock in Cambodia. Another cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, was quarantined in Japan for two weeks – four of its passengers have died of the illness after the virus spread to hundreds of people on board.

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