American from cruise ship docked in Cambodia tests positive in Malaysia for coronavirus

FILE PHOTO: Passengers onboard MS Westerdam, a cruise ship that spent two weeks at sea after being turned away by five countries over fears that someone aboard might have the coronavirus, are seen in Sihanoukville
FILE PHOTO: Passengers onboard MS Westerdam, a cruise ship that spent two weeks at sea after being turned away by five countries over fears that someone aboard might have the coronavirus, are seen in Sihanoukville, Cambodia February 14, 2020. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File Photo

February 15, 2020

KUALA LUMPUR/SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia (Reuters) – An 83-year-old American passenger from a cruise ship that docked in Cambodia after being shunned by other countries has tested positive for the new coronavirus after being tested in Malaysia, health authorities said on Saturday.

The woman was the first passenger from the MS Westerdam, operated by Carnival Corp unit Holland America Inc, to test positive for the virus.

The ship docked in the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville on Thursday carrying 1,455 passengers and 802 crew. It had spent two weeks at sea after being turned away by Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines and Thailand.

The passengers were tested regularly on board and Cambodia also tested 20 once it docked. None was found to have the new coronavirus that has killed more than 1,500 people, the vast majority in China.

The American woman flew to Malaysia on Friday from Cambodia along with 144 others from the ship, the Malaysian health ministry said in a statement, adding that she was in stable condition.

The woman’s husband had shown symptoms but tested negative, it said. The couple were the only ones of the 145 to show symptoms, the ministry said.

A spokesman for Holland America declined to comment.

Fewer than 300 people were still on board the Westerdam, according to a company official, who declined to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Company officials have said passengers had been routed through Phnom Penh and Kuala Lumpur to fly back to their home countries, but they have not said that all passengers had taken that route.

Or Vandine, Secretary of State at Cambodia’s Health Ministry, declined to comment.

U.S. President Donald Trump has thanked Cambodia for taking in the ship in a rare message to a country that is one of China’s closest allies and has often been at odds with Washington.

Cruise ships around Asia face widespread fears they may be spreading the virus. The biggest cluster outside China has been on the Diamond Princess, quarantined off Japan’s Yokohama. Out of about 3,700 passengers and crew on board, 285 people have tested positive and have been sent to hospital.

Vietnam turned back two ships on Friday.

The American woman’s case brings the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Malaysia to 22.

An 80-year-old Chinese tourist infected with the coronavirus has died in France, the first fatality in Europe and the fourth outside mainland China.

Most of the deaths so far have been in the central Chinese province of Hubei, where the virus is believed to have originated at a wildlife market.

(Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi and Joseph Sipalan in Kuala Lumpur; Prak Chan Thul in Phnom Penh, Clare Baldwin in Sihanoukville and Orathai Sriring in Bangkok; Editing by Nick Macfie)