Passengers who were in lockdown on a cruise ship in the Italian city of Civitavecchia have now been allowed to leave after confirmation that two people on board do not have coronavirus.
The Costa Smeralda ship – carrying 7,000 people including some Britons – had been kept on the ship since Thursday morning after a 54-year-old Chinese woman from Macau came down with flu-like symptoms the previous night.
The woman, who boarded the ship on January 25 in the port of Savona, was placed in an isolation unit on the ship with her partner.
The Costa Smeralda had visited Marseilles in France and the Spanish ports of Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca this week before docking on Thursday at Civitavecchia.
Italy’s health ministry has now confirmed that two Chinese cruise ship passengers tested negative for the virus that has killed 170 people so far in the city of Wuhan.
Costa Cruises was offering to pay for food and hotels for some 1,140 people who had been due to disembark at the Civitavecchia port near Rome early Thursday, and the Costa Smeralda was to set sail again Friday, Italian media said.
On Thursday afternoon Vincenzo Leone, the commander of the port, suddenly announced that 1,140 people who were due to complete their cruise that day would be allowed to disembark as scheduled.
But he was quickly rebuked by mayor Ernesto Tedesco who arrived on the scene in a Fiat 500 being driven by his assistant, leaned out of the window and shouted: ‘Are you crazy? Who gave the landing order?’
It is thought Leone gave the order after preliminary test results indicated that the couple do not have coronavirus, but was told to wait until full results come back from a hospital in Rome before letting anyone go.
‘Shout to the commander Leo,’ he added, according to Italian news site Repubblica. ‘If you let someone down, you do so at your own risk.’
The only people allowed on or off the boat since it docked in Civitavecchia in the early hours have been three doctors and a nurse, who were taken to the medical bay to test the woman and her husband for coronavirus.
It is though the woman is suffering ‘mild flu-like symptoms’ and her husband has no symptoms, but was isolated is a separate room to her and tested as a precaution.
Samples have been sent to a specialist hospital in Rome with results not expected until the evening.
Preliminary tests have indicated that the couple do not have coronavirus. It is thought that Mr Leone may have mistaken these results for the full test results when he tried to release some of the passengers.
Costa Crociere, the company which owns the ship, has confirmed that it is in lockdown. Of those stuck on board, 751 are though to be Chinese with 374 embarking in Savona, the same ports as the sick couple.
The Costa Smeralda, the company’s flagship and the fifth-largest cruise ship in the world, ‘came from Palma de Mallorca and is currently engaged in one-week cruises in the western Mediterranean,’ it said.
‘The couple’s cabin has been isolated and they are in with the doctors,’ an unnamed passenger was quoted as telling ANSA news agency.
‘We’re a bit worried of course. No-one is getting on or off the ship apart from the doctors. This holiday risks ending in a nightmare’.
Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said the government was ‘not worried, but vigilant and cautious’.
Vincenzo Leone, head of the Lazio coastguard, said: ‘We are waiting to know the outcome of the checks still in progress, but everything that needed to be done has been done.
‘The situation is under control and at the moment there is no reason for concern on board.’
Carnival, the company which owns Costa Crociere, saw its stock price plunge 11 per cent Thursday morning.
Cruise operators MSC Cruises and Costa Cruises said on Thursday that they had cancelled departures from Chinese ports because of the deadly coronavirus outbreak.
MSC cancelled three scheduled cruises on its Splendida ship which has a capacity of 6,880 people and was due to sail on February 1, 5 and 9 for Japan.
The ship is now to depart again only on February 14, when it will leave from Singapore, instead of Shanghai, for the Middle East and Europe, MSC said.
MSC said in a statement that no case of infection among passengers or crew had been reported on any Asian winter cruises.
The decision to move the departure point from Shanghai to Singapore had been taken for the safety and wellbeing of passengers and crew, it said.
Costa, meanwhile suspended nine trips from China that had been scheduled between now and February 4, saying the measure was ‘temporary’.