16 February 2020
A NUMBER of passengers were denied boarding for an Amsterdam-bound KLM flight departing from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on Saturday.
The travellers, including Dutch and American citizens, had been among the more than 2,200 passengers and crew on the MS Westerdam cruise ship, which was turned away by five ports before disembarking in Cambodia.
An 83-year-old American passenger, who flew from Cambodia to Kuala Lumpur along with 145 fellow cruise ship passengers on Thursday, was diagnosed with the Covid-19 coronavirus a day after she left the ship.
The tourists, who were kept from boarding KLM flight 810, are still in Malaysia, along with a 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, which runs the MS Westerdam, said in a statement late on 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 US 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 travelled 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.
The testing on those passengers followed established protocols for testing the virus, said Li Ailan, the World Health Organisation’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 on 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 MS 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.