Coronavirus: Dozens test positive for Covid-19 on Norwegian cruise ship

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Image shows the MS Roald Amundsen cruise shipImage source, EPA
Image caption,
The MS Roald Amundsen is owned by the Norwegian firm Hurtigruten

At least 41 passengers and crew on a Norwegian cruise ship have tested positive for Covid-19, officials say.

Hundreds more passengers who travelled on the MS Roald Amundsen are in quarantine and awaiting test results, the company that owns the ship said.

The ship, which belongs to the Norwegian firm Hurtigruten, docked in the port of Tromso in northern Norway on Friday.

Hurtigruten has halted all leisure cruises because of the outbreak.

"This is a serious situation for everyone involved. We have not been good enough and we have made mistakes," Chief Executive Daniel Skjeldam said in a statement on Monday.

"A preliminary evaluation shows a breakdown in several of our internal procedures," he added. "The only responsible choice is to suspend all expedition sailings."

Norway's government has announced it will stop all cruise ships with more than 100 people on board from disembarking passengers for at least 14 days.

And police said they were investigating whether any laws had been broken prior to the outbreak on the Roald Amundsen. "We have found grounds to open a case," a police official told Reuters news agency.

What happened on the ship?

The MS Roald Amundsen had been on a week-long voyage to Svalbard in the Arctic, and was also reportedly scheduled to visit ports in England and Scotland in September.

Four crew members were admitted to hospital on Friday with coronavirus symptoms, shortly after the ship docked in the Arctic port of Tromso, and they later tested positive for the virus.

Another 32 crew members on board were found to be infected. The staff who tested positive included German, French and Filipino citizens.

They were tested for the virus before leaving their home countries but did not quarantine before starting work on the ship, Hurtigruten said.

Almost 180 passengers were allowed to depart the ship on Friday, leaving the authorities scrambling over the weekend to locate and test those who had been on board.

All the passengers have now been contacted and told to self-isolate for 10 days, health officials said. Five passengers have so far tested positive out of 387 who had travelled on the ship since 17 July.

"We expect that more infections will be found in connection to this outbreak," said Line Vold, a health official.

The majority of passengers are reported to be Norwegians, but there were also travellers from Germany, Denmark, the UK and the US on board.

What's the latest with the cruise industry?

The outbreak on the MS Roald Amundsen is the latest blow to an industry that has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with shares in the major global operators falling dramatically since the start of March.

Thousands of passengers were left stranded at sea earlier this year as ships were hit by outbreaks of the virus and countries closed their borders.

The MS Roald Amundsen was itself stranded for several days in March after Chile refused it entry as it tightened its border restrictions. Similar incidents involving other ships occurred over the following weeks in various places around the world.

And while the industry has restarted in recent times, there have been other coronavirus-related setbacks.

A crew member on a ship in the Pacific tested positive for the virus on Sunday. The Paul Gauguin was forced to suspend its journey when the case was detected by the ship's doctor, local media report.

Passengers were told to stay in their cabins as the ship turned back to Papeete on the island of Tahiti, where all on board are being tested.

Ahead of resuming its operations, Ponant, the company that runs the Paul Gauguin, had reassured customers in a blog post that it had strict regulations in place that "go further than the international standards for the sector".

In any case cruise companies are expecting strong bookings for 2021. They are reporting a combination of new bookings and people using vouchers they received for cancelled cruises that had been scheduled for this year.

"We absolutely believe when we come out of this we will lean into our repeat cruisers," Christine Duffy, the president of Carnival Cruise line, told Reuters. "They really are the ambassadors for the cruise industry."