[Santa Cruz Sentinel] North Bay residents experience ‘cruise to nowhere’ amid coronavirus scare
Passengers aboard the cruise ship Crystal Symphony anticipated a luxury voyage featuring the countries of Asia. Instead, they were forced to remain on board as nation after nation refused entry to port out of fear the 750 people on board were infected with the coronavirus.
"It was definitely an adventure," said passenger Susan Angel, 69, of San Rafael. "It was a cruise to nowhere. We kept getting turned away from every port and ended up sailing in a circle."
Angel, who was traveling with her husband and 95-year-old mother, said after days of routine temperature checks, in the morning and at night, no one turned out to be infected. The Crystal Symphony was finally allowed into port in Singapore on Wednesday, after 10 days at sea.
Reports of coronavirus infections on other cruise liners such as the Diamond Princess have many countries in Asia on high alert.
In Japan, the U.S. Embassy said a chartered aircraft will arrive late Sunday to fly home Americans aboard the Diamond Princess in Yokohama, near Tokyo. The passengers have been quarantined aboard the ship since Feb. 5, but they will face another two-week quarantine after arriving in the United States.
Extensive security checks are being conducted before ships are allowed entry.
"There are hundreds of ships in harbor," Angel said. "There must be a lot of places that turn people away and are still out on the ocean. Other cruise ships were out on the bay all day too."
Stops at checkpoints were constant in Singapore, as officials used thermal cameras to watch for anyone running a fever.
"You can't go in or out of a hotel, a restaurant, a shopping center or anything at all without having your temperature taken," she said. "Also, there are hand sanitizers everywhere. I wish I had invested in the company that manufactures the machines that take your temperature from a distance away."
The coronavirus, a pulmonary virus that originated in Wuhan, China, has killed about 1,500 people and infected more than 66,0000 people, according to John Hopkins University's Department of Civil and Systems Engineering infection tracker. There were 67 reported cases in Singapore as of Friday.
Numbers of new cases have fluctuated, fueling both optimism the disease might be under control and warnings that such hopes are premature.
The U.N. health agency's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, urged governments to step up their efforts to prepare for the virus, saying "it's impossible to predict which direction this epidemic will take."
Late last month, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus as an international health emergency. On Feb. 2, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning to avoid travel to China.
The Crystal Symphony departed from San Diego on Jan. 13, making stops in Hawaii and Guam before crossing the Pacific, according to cruismapper.com.
After missing Saipan Island due to bad weather, it pulled out of Guam on Feb. 2 and set a course for the Philippines. The cruise ship arrived at the port of Manila on Feb. 7.
"Then the ultimate destination was changed from Hong Kong to Taipei due to fears of the coronavirus, then the Philippines turned us away due to coronavirus, then Vietnam turned us away, and Taiwan closed their port, leaving us destination-less."
Before turning the ship away, Philippines officials required a health report that contained the temperatures of all passengers and crew on board, she said. The tests came up negative.
"We figured we were actually in the safest place in the world, since we have all been trapped together since we left Guam," she said.
Because people who had visited China in the last 30 days were not allowed to board, she said most passengers aboard the ship were not worried about the coronavirus. The changes in the itinerary, however, caused most people stress.
"People were quite frantic about changing their flights," Angel said. "We were flying on miles so United just rebooked us, no problem. Other people were having trouble with their flights still have to change planes from Hong Kong."
She said as a response to the changes in the itinerary the cruise line offered all passengers credit in the full amount for the cruise toward a future voyage.
While they were trapped on the ship, Angel said they were still able to enjoy themselves.
She said they restocked on food and drinks in the Philippines, live entertainment was extended and they even enjoyed big Super Bowl and Academy Awards parties on board.
"Most people were pretty resigned and comfortable," she said. "I mean, what can you do?"The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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