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.
The Costa Smeralda cruise ship of Costa Crociere, carrying around 6,000 passengers, sits docked at the Italian port of Civitavecchia following a health alert due to a Chinese couple and a possible link to coronavirus
The Costa Smeralda cruise ship of Costa Crociere pictured in Civitavecchia in Italy on Thursday evening
Italian cruise ship Costa Smeralda carrying some 6,000 passengers is pictured docked at the Italian port of Civitavecchia as tests are carried out
7,000 people have been quarantined aboard cruise ship Costa Smeralda in the Italian port city of Civitavecchia, 35 miles north of Rome, amid a suspected case of coronavirus (pictured, social media images believed to show passengers on board the ship)
A 54-year-old woman from Macau is thought to have alerted medics on the ship (pictured today) to symptoms including fever and respiratory problems on Wednesday night
The woman and her husband are thought to be in separate isolation rooms in the medical bay, while other passengers have been forbidden from leaving the ship
Mayor Ernesto Tedesco (pictured) was forced to slap down the port’s captain on Thursday afternoon after he suddenly tried to release 1,000 of the quarantined passengers. Tedesco raced to the port in a Fiat 500 before yelling: ‘Are you crazy?’
Passengers wearing face masks are seen on board the vessel. It is though there are around 750 Chinese on board, of which around 350 boarded in Savona – the same port as the infected couple
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.
Healthcare workers have placed the woman and her husband, who is not thought to have symptoms, in solitary confinement while tests are carried out (pictured, other passengers on board the ship)
The Smeralda was due to leave Civitavecchia Thursday afternoon for La Spezia but will be held until the all-clear is given
Passengers have reported an easy-going attitude on board the ship, with families playing in the pool and relaxing on deck
The couple are thought to have flown from Hong Kong to Milan, joined the cruise at Savona the same day, and then visited several locations around the Mediterranean before being quarantined at Civitavecchia
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’.
The ship was on its last day of a round-the-Mediterranean cruise when it came to dock at Civitavecchia – where it departed on January 23 – when it was stopped
The Costa Smeralda had been on a seven-day cruise around the Mediterranean, including stops in France and Spain, when it returned to Civitavecchia on Thursday
Samples from the two passengers were sent for testing after three doctors and a nurse boarded the Costa Crociere ship in the port of Civitavecchia
Italy has yet to have any confirmed cases of coronavirus, though there are currently five cases under review – including the two on board the Smeralda
Passengers are seen onboard the Costa Smeralda cruise ship as they wait to hear whether they will be allowed to disembark
The Costa Smeralda cruise ship is docked in the Civitavecchia port 35 miles north of Rome
WUHAN CORONAVIRUS: WHAT WE KNOW SO FAR
What is this virus?
The virus has been identified as a new type of coronavirus. Coronaviruses are a large family of pathogens, most of which cause mild lung infections such as the common cold.
But coronaviruses can also be deadly. SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is caused by a coronavirus and killed hundreds of people in China and Hong Kong in the early 2000s.
Can the Wuhan coronavirus kill?
Yes – 170 people have so far died after testing positive for the virus.
What are the symptoms?
Some people who catch the Wuhan coronavirus may not have any symptoms at all, or only very mild ones like a sore throat or a headache.
Others may suffer from a fever, cough or trouble breathing.
And a small proportion of patients will go on to develop severe infection which can damage the lungs or cause pneumonia, a life-threatening condition which causes swelling and fluid build-up in the lungs.
How is it detected?
The virus’s genetic sequencing was released by scientists in China and countries around the world have used this to create lab tests, which must be carried out to confirm an infection.
Delays to these tests, to test results and to people getting to hospitals in China, mean the number of confirmed cases is expected to be just a fraction of the true scale of the outbreak.
How did it start and spread?
The first cases identified were among people connected to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan.
Cases have since been identified around China and are known to have spread from person to person.
What are countries doing to prevent the spread?
Countries in Asia have stepped up airport surveillance. They include Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines.
Australia and the US are also screening patients for a high temperature, and the UK announced it will screen passengers returning from Wuhan.
Is it similar to anything we’ve ever seen before?
Experts have compared it to the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The epidemic started in southern China and killed more than 700 people in mainland China, Hong Kong and elsewhere.
CLICK HERE TO SEE MAILONLINE’S FULL Q&A ON THE CORONAVIRUS
The Costa Smeralda is a brand-new ship that only launched in December last year, and cruises around the Mediterranean.
It is currently on the last day of a cruise that began at Civitavecchia on January 23 before stopping at La Spezia, Savona, Marseille, Barcelona, and Mallorca.
The ship was in the process of docking back at Civitavecchia when it was stopped.
The couple are thought to have boarded at Savona on January 25, having flown from Hong Kong to Milan’s international airport the same day.
The ship had been due to sail for La Spezia in north Italy late Thursday, but will be detained in Civitavecchia.
The cruise ship is not the only site of a suspected coronavirus outbreak in Italy.
A 24-year-old woman has been placed in isolation in Alessandria hospital after falling ill upon her return home from Shanghai, where she had been living for six months.
She has been tested for coronavirus, with results due by Friday morning.
In Rome, a Chinese couple have also been taken to hospital with a suspected case of coronavirus after the husband fell ill shortly after arriving from his home country.
The woman has not shown symptoms, but is being kept in hospital as a precaution.
Elsewhere Russia has closed its eastern border with China in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease, with cases reported in 20 countries around the world.
Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said the drastic measure was necessary because the country ‘had to do everything it could to protect its people’. He said it would come into effect immediately.
As well as shutting off the Far East border, Russia has limited all railway links with China from January 31, leaving only direct trains between Moscow and Beijing.
Russia does not have any confirmed cases of the new virus but the government has set up a task force to track down and screen people who have travelled from Wuhan, to prevent its possible spread.
Chinese officials have now confirmed more than 7,900 cases, while more than 100 have been recorded outside of nation.
Deaths have also risen to 170, with 38 patients dying in one day – the biggest 24-hour jump since the outbreak began last month.
It comes after three Japanese people who were evacuated from Wuhan have tested positive for coronavirus – while India has become the latest country to confirm a case.
Two of the Japanese nationals did not show symptoms when they boarded the plane on Wednesday – fuelling fears hosts of the virus may be spreading it unwittingly.
They were among 206 passengers flown to Tokyo from the epicentre of the outbreak, which has so far killed 170 and infected nearly 8,000 worldwide.
While the vast majority of cases have been in China, more than 100 have appeared in about 20 other countries and territories, including the US, Canada, France and Australia.
The couple are thought to have flown in to Milan on January 25 before joining the ship at Savona, then stopped at Marseille, Barcelona and Palma before going back to Civitavecchia
The killer coronavirus rapidly sweeping the world has now infected every region of China and 20 other countries. The death toll is 170 and cases have soared past 7,900
World Health Organisation figures show just 2,014 patients had been struck down with the SARS-like infection by Sunday, January 26. This has now risen dramatically to 7,817, with cases in the US, Australia and Canada
Passengers wait to hear news of their flight at Heathrow Airport as BA announced the cancellation of all flights to mainland China
Experts say the difficulty of containing the coronavirus is that so many patients have mild, cold-like symptoms and don’t realise they have the infection – but it can quickly turn deadly
The World Health Organization, which initially downplayed a disease that has now killed 170 in China, was preparing to meet Thursday to decide whether to declare it a global emergency.
Silvio Brusaferro, president of the Italian national health institute, said that all suspected cases in Italy so far had turned out to be false alarms, but the health service was ‘ready should any cases of infection emerge’.
Beijing has taken extraordinary steps to arrest the spread of the virus, including effectively quarantining more than 50 million people in Wuhan and surrounding Hubei province.
The pathogen is believed to have emerged in a market that sold wild game, and spread by a Lunar New Year holiday season in which hundreds of millions of Chinese travel domestically or abroad.
Scientists in Asia claim to have made a vaccine that could protect millions against the killer coronavirus that is rapidly sweeping the world.
Several countries have joined the global race for a jab, with virologists in Britain and the US working round-the-clock to create one.
Experts in Hong Kong have now announced they are hopeful a vaccine they have created will work against the never-before-seen virus.
But the team warned it will be at least one year before it could dished out to humans, with safety trials on animals and humans needed first.