Coronavirus: work from home scheme extended, harsh penalties laid out for quarantine violations as HK battles outbreak

10-Feb-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Thousands of passengers and crew spent a third day trapped together on a cruise ship docked in Hong Kong on Friday, as health authorities continued to monitor them for the coronavirus.

Those on board watched films, played mahjong, took walks on the deck to kill time and mingled at the buffet, although the opera house and swimming pool had been closed.

Some relatives of passengers took boxes of essential items to the site, so the cruise line could help deliver them to the ship.

The World Dream, which arrived back in the city on Wednesday, remained docked at Kai Tak Cruise Terminal with some passengers complaining hygiene on board was getting worse, and that they had been given no indication as to when they could leave.

Dream Cruises said it had been given no guidelines on whether passengers and crew 3,600 people in total should be stopped from gathering together, and pictures from inside the cruise ship showed groups congregating in public areas.

On Thursday night, another passenger was hospitalised with a fever, sparking fear of an outbreak among those on board, with some passengers complaining they had only found out through the media, and not from the cruise line.

Phoebe Yip Ching-man, vice-president of marketing at Dream Cruises, said health authorities had not asked the company to adjust meal arrangements, or to stop other activities on board.

“We have not received special guidelines on whether the passengers should be separated for quarantine on their own. If there are appropriate and professional guidelines issued, we will definitely follow them,” she said.

“But playing mahjong is like having a meal. The number of people involved was not large and the contact was not close. If relevant departments want us to [stop people playing mahjong], we will immediately do so.”

But legislator Helena Wong Pik-wan of the Democratic Party which has set up a hotline to help people stranded on the ship expressed concerns, saying the idea of hidden virus carriers being on the vessel could not be ruled out.

“From the existing confirmed cases, we know the largest chance of infection is a family living environment, under which people have close contact,” she said.

“If the [people] on the vessel become like a big family, and if one person got infected, we worry it could spread to others on the cruise.”

She criticised health authorities, saying they still had not given passengers clear guidelines on how to guard against the virus.

World Dream left Hong Kong for Taiwan on Sunday, but was turned away by authorities after it was discovered to have carried passengers infected with the new virus during a January cruise between Hong Kong and Vietnam.

Department of Health officials boarded the ship on its return on Wednesday morning, and checked passengers the following day.

Tests for the coronavirus on the 34 crew members and nine passengers who had earlier claimed to have fever or symptoms for upper respiratory tract infection or mild respiratory symptoms were negative. But more testing was underway on a crew member reported to have developed respiratory symptoms on Friday.

“It’s a bit worrying but there’s not much we can do about it,” said one passenger, called Michelle.

The 27-year-old project manager said the cruise had offered to deliver meals to their rooms, but she assumed that would take the staff a lot of time.

“So I guess we will just be having meals in the restaurant that doesn’t do buffet,” she said.

A 66-year-old clerk who identified himself as Chan, who had been on a trip with friends, said passengers killed time by walking on the deck.

“Everyone is a bit lost and wonders when [they can leave the vessel],” he said. “Hygiene has got worse.”

The cruise operator said it had two doctors on board, and housekeeping services would still be available every day.

Yip said doctors from the health department and their counterparts on the ship communicated each day, and the medical staff on the vessel could deal with regular illnesses if the need arose.

She said the firm had contacted the 206 passengers who had boarded in Hong Kong and were on the same trip as the eight infected Chinese travellers to Vietnam, and had passed their names and ID numbers to officials


Category: Hong Kong

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