Guam has become one the latest destinations to reject the cruise ship MS Westerdam, which sought entry into the island's only civilian seaport after the Philippines and Japan rejected its requests for a stopover amid growing concerns over the novel coronavirus.
"Passengers may be infected with the 2019 novel coronavirus," stated Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero and Lt. Gov. Joshua Tenorio's administration Friday afternoon.
The U.S. State Department had asked the government of Guam to accept the ship, which has 1,455 guests and 802 crew members, according to a press release from the governor's office.
A statement from Holland America, which runs the cruise line, states that no passengers on board the vessel are ill.
"The vessel sought entry at two other ports but was denied, given the potential risk of infection and the need for a large quarantine," the Guam governor's office stated Friday afternoon.
To date, there are no confirmed cases of the new coronavirus on Guam, local officials reiterated, noting in a separate press release that the local Department of Public Health and Social Services is working with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to allow Guam the ability to test for the virus.
"At this time, all testing for 2019-nCoV is completed at the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia," the governor's office stated. "CDC recently developed a new laboratory kit that tests patient specimens for 2019-nCoV. DPHSS has requested these test kits to establish testing here on Guam."
Each test kit can test approximately 400 patient specimens. On Feb. 5, the CDC began shipping the 2019-nCoV diagnostic test kits to U.S. domestic laboratories and select international laboratories.
800 new passengers
On Feb. 1, the $430 million ship, which flies the Netherlands flag, docked in Hong Kong and boarded approximately 800 passengers.
In the midst of the novel coronavirus scare, the cruise ship has found itself with a list of destinations where the virus has become an increasing concern.
Its itinerary included stops in Manila on Feb. 3, Taiwan on Feb. 5, Japan on Feb. 8, South Korea on Feb. 12 and Shanghai, China, on Feb. 15, according to cruisemapper.com.
Manila stopped the cruise ship from visiting. Japan did the same.
"Holland America Line has been notified that the Japanese Government will not allow Westerdam to call in Japanese ports," Holland America Line stated in a Feb. 6 statement. "We are quickly working to develop alternate plans for guests currently on board and will keep them updated as information becomes available. As well, the latest updates will be posted here as soon as they are finalized. Despite erroneous media reports, the ship is not in quarantine and there are no known cases of coronavirus on board."
Cargo ship cleared
A few days ago, Guam Public Health inspectors also had to board a container cargo ship that made a Guam stop with two ill crew members on board. The crew members were not allowed to leave the ship while on Guam. Guam Public Health officials later ruled out symptoms of the novel coronavirus. The new virus has resulted in more than 20,000 cases in China in weeks and claimed the lives of hundreds also in China.
“While we feel for every soul on board the MS Westerdam, our obligation is to protect the people of Guam. Though Guam is prepared to deal with the potential implications of the coronavirus, few jurisdictions can screen, quarantine or treat 1,400 patients at one time,” Leon Guerrero said. “We respect that Guam has a duty to the nation we love, but that duty cannot jeopardize the health and safety of our people.”
Based on information from counterparts at the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. State Department, the vessel has enough food and fuel to sustain itself for some time.
“We have made clear that we will use every tool available to us to protect our people and our border,” Tenorio stated.