The choice for 300 Australians: stay on cruise ship with Covid-19 positive passenger or disembark in Italy

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More than 300 Australians on the Costa Victoria cruise ship face a choice between staying aboard the ship potentially affected by Covid-19 or landing in Italy, now the world center for the virus outbreak.

Airlines around the world are canceling international flights: Qantas is slated to halt all international flights by the end of the month, meaning those landing in Italy could be stranded there for weeks if repatriation flights cannot be arranged. .

Many of the Australians on the Costa Victoria are elderly, and some have underlying health problems, putting them in the highest risk category for serious infection.

At least one passenger on the ship tested positive while on board. The man landed on Crete.

The Italian flagged Costa Victoria, at sea for a fortnight, docked in Civitavecchia, a port city on the Tyrrhenian Sea 60 kilometers northwest of Rome on Wednesday (Italian time).

Australians Brenda and Dave Rondo say that although the ship has docked, they have not yet been allowed to leave.

“We have to stay in the cabin, they knock on the door, they leave food and they back off. The staff has gone from charming to now, if you kindly ask for milk for your morning coffee, they yell at you and say "no!"

"We have heard different things, but not from the Captain, that we can go to Rottnest Island in Western Australia for quarantine, but … the last thing we hear is that we will have to stay in Rome in a motel for two weeks."

Passengers on the Costa Victoria may be ordered to follow a similar isolation course as passengers on the Costa Luminosa that docked in Savona in northern Italy earlier this week. The ship had also confirmed Covid-19 cases on board.

Passengers from neighboring European countries were allowed to travel home to isolate themselves, but Australians, South Africans and others from more distant nations were forced to remain in Italy to isolate themselves for fifteen days.

Cases of Covid-19 were confirmed on the ship in Savona, while other passengers were loaded onto buses and driven to Rome, more than 560 km away.

However, some passengers say that the hotel rooms, which they won't be able to leave for two weeks, are worse than the ship.

"It is smaller than our cabins, it has no hanging space and there is hardly any room to walk," said Ivan Maronian.

Others have complained that there are no pillows, the taps are not working, and only small meals are provided. Many have been unable to wash clothes since the ship entered the blockade weeks ago.

Worse still is the fear of what could happen if they get sick.

"It is completely scary because if you contracted the coronavirus there, I really am not sure what kind of medical care you would receive, given the situation," said Laura Bendlin, whose father was on board.

"In the worst case, he dies."

Italy has overtaken China by the total deaths of Covid-19: almost 75,000 cases have been confirmed and more than 7,500 people have died.

But cruises have posed serious problems for health authorities around the world. The inevitably confined nature of the vessels has made them fast incubators for Covid-19.

For several days in February, the unfortunate Princess Diamond who was isolated in the port of Yokohama, Japan, after isolated cases were detected on board, was the second largest coronavirus outbreak site in the world, behind mainland China.

During a two-week forced quarantine on board, nearly 700 people were infected and seven died. The quarantine was abandoned and the crew and passengers finally disembarked (most were placed in an additional fifteen-day quarantine in their home countries).

Currently on board the Zaandam, which carries about 100 Australians and stranded off the west coast of South America, at least 80, and reportedly up to 140, passengers and crew are ill with symptoms similar to those of the flu. A quarter of the crew are reported to be in quarantine and the passengers are said to be "terrified and stressed."

The ship is being resupplied by another ship, Rotterdam, which will bring additional supplies, personnel and Covid-19 test kits on board (there are currently none). The ship intends to sail to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to disembark at the end of the month.

Even ships without any Covid-19 cases are being treated with extreme caution by ports around the world.

Norwegian Jewel was rejected from four countries, including Australia, before being able to dock and disembark passengers in Hawaii, despite being at sea for weeks and having no suspected or confirmed cases.

Worldwide, 3,000 Australians are stranded on more than 20 cruises because countries have closed their borders due to the coronavirus.

The Australian government says it is aware of the dire situation facing many of those on board: the lack of ports to dock ships and the rapidly reducing repatriation routes once ashore.

A Dfat spokesman said the department had raised concerns with Italian authorities about cruise ships disembarking passengers in areas that were already badly affected by Covid-19, and urged authorities to find safer alternative ports.

Chancellor Marise Payne said her department was working "all day" to help Australians return home. She said the government was talking to Qantas and Virgin about launching repatriation missions for stranded Australians, but admitted that it will be impossible to reach all Australians who want to go home.

    . (tagsToTranslate) Cruises (t) Coronavirus outbreak (t) Infectious diseases (t) Italy (t) Australia News (t) Marise Payne
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