Updated Feb 18, 2020 - Health

Hundreds of Westerdam passengers remain on ship for coronavirus tests

The Westerdam cruise ship docked in Sihanoukville, Cambodia on Friday. Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

Hundreds of passengers and crew members aboard the Westerdam cruise ship are undergoing tests for the novel coronavirus at Cambodia after an American traveler tested positive for the virus, the ship's operator confirmed in a statement Tuesday.

The latest: 92 American citizens remain on board the Westerdam, operated by Holland America Line, and another 260 are awaiting travel clearance in hotels in Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, said Dr. William Walters, director of operational medicine at the State Department, during a news briefing Monday.

  • Cambodian Health Ministry officials are on board the Westerdam, docked off the port of Sihanoukville, testing for COVID-19 on the 255 guests and 747 crew awaiting clearance, Holland America said. The tests are expected to take several days to complete.

U.S. case: The 83-year-old American woman tested positive last Friday in Kuala Lumpur after the ship arrived from Cambodia, per the Malaysian health ministry. Her 85-year-old husband has tested negative for COVID-19, Holland America said.

  • "The guest was taken to the hospital and is reported to be in stable condition," the statement said.

The big picture: The Westerdam was carrying 2,257 passengers and crew when it docked in Malaysia after several ports denied it entry over coronavirus fears, per the cruise liner. President Trump thanked Cambodia for accepting the ship Friday.

  • Several countries were trying on Monday to locate hundreds of passengers who departed the Westerdam cruise ship when it docked in Malaysia, where an American traveler tested positive for the novel coronavirus, per the New York Times.
  • Malaysian officials have now barred all cruise ships from its ports and the remaining Westerdam passengers are not welcome in the country, the Malay Mail first reported.

What they're saying: Health experts have expressed concern that Westerdam passengers were released without a quarantine order, including the woman infected with COVID-19.

  • Stanley Deresinski, a Stanford University professor and infectious disease specialist at the university hospital, told Fortune magazine, "This woman was on the boat and was infected for a few days — she could have potentially exposed other people on the boat who have now gone home. ... It doesn't require prolonged exposure to be infected."
  • Jeff Duchin, health officer and chief of communicable disease epidemiology section at Seattle and King County health department, told the Washington Post, "[T]here is transmission occurring in unexpected places that we're not aware of. ... The virus is moving very quickly and silently and presents a real challenge to containment."
  • All aboard the Westerdam underwent health screenings on Feb. 10 and further checks after disembarking in Cambodia, Holland America said. The woman displayed no symptoms for the virus during the voyage.

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Editor's note: This article has been updated with more details, including comment from Walters and Holland America.

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