GEORGE TOWN (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE) - Malaysia has issued a blanket ban on all cruise ships coming into the country due to the increasing Covid-19 cases, putting further strain on the tourism industry.
The move came as Malaysia on Saturday barred the Costa Fortuna cruise ship carrying about 2,000 people, including dozens of Italians, from docking due to fears about the new coronavirus.
The immediate ban took effect following instructions from the Health and Transport ministries.
The port commission in the northern state of Penang issued a circular to ship owners, agents, vessel owners, port authorities and terminal operators, citing the ministries, which said all cruise vessels are temporarily restricted from entering any Malaysian port until further notice.
It said in view of the decision by the Health Ministry, all cruise vessels are restricted from entering the limits of Penang Port with immediate effect until further notice.
Port Klang Authority (PKA), which also issued a similar statement, said that while it acknowledged that the cruise industry is an important component, this temporary measure was necessary.
PKA general manager K. Subramaniam said during this difficult period, it is vital that more medical resources are concentrated on hospitals to attend to medical emergencies and undertake preventive measures.
"We are hopeful that this is a temporary measure and with concerted efforts of all parties, it will be resolved soonest possible, " he said.
Penang recorded a sharp increase in cruise passengers last year. It registered 354,507 passengers in 2018, rising to 449,885 last year.
The number of vessels arriving also increased from 185 to 198 last year.
Port Klang received 360,000 passengers last year compared to 300,000 in 2018, with 150 cruise liners calling on the port last year.
Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said he is aware the directive came from the Transport Ministry.
"Although it could affect the tourism industry, it's too big a risk."
Malaysia joins several countries and territories that have banned cruise ships from entering their ports. They include the Philippines, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan, according to an Aljazeera.com report last month.
The Costa Fortuna was first turned away from the popular Thai holiday island of Phuket on Friday, despite there being no suspected virus cases aboard, according to its operator.
Thai authorities had imposed restrictions "on Italians that have transited in Italy in the last 14 days", Costa Cruises said on Twitter.
The ship is carrying 64 Italians, according to Malaysian officials.
On Saturday the vessel tried to dock in Penang but was also refused entry, local politician Phee Boon Poh told AFP.
Italy has been hard hit by the virus with more than 230 fatalities, the most deaths from the disease of any country outside China, where the outbreak began in December.
The Costa Fortuna's case has similarities with that of the Westerdam, a cruise ship that was at sea for two weeks and was rejected by five countries over fears its passengers could have the virus. Cambodia finally allowed it to dock on the country's southern coast on Feb 13.
Worldwide, the total number of people with Covid-19 has passed 100,000 while 3,500 have died across 95 nations and territories.