Myanmar turns away cruise ship over coronavirus fears

The Silver Spirit is a luxury liner operated by Monaco-based Silversea Cruises, which is owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises. PHOTO: SILVERSEA.COM

YANGON (REUTERS) - Myanmar stopped a cruise boat carrying hundreds of tourists from docking in the country, a senior tourism official said on Tuesday (March 3), citing fears passengers could be carrying the coronavirus.

The Silver Spirit, a luxury liner operated by Monaco-based Silversea Cruises, last docked at the Thai island of Phuket and was scheduled to stop at Thilawa, outside Myanmar's commercial capital of Yangon on Wednesday.

"We have informed the ... port authorities that the entry of this ship should not be allowed," Khin Maung Soe, deputy permanent secretary of the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, told Reuters by phone.

He said he did not know whether any of the passengers were showing symptoms of the virus.

"Even if passengers haven't shown the symptoms so far, they might when they arrive in Myanmar and it will be difficult for the country to control," he said.

"If things get worse, our people might get affected."

A statement by the Ministry of Health and Sports published on Facebook said the ship should not be allowed to enter because it had docked in countries with a high number of cases of the virus, including Thailand which has 43.

The boat has more than 400 passengers on board, a ministry spokesman said. It was not immediately clear where the ship would go next.

Myanmar borders China, where the virus first broke out late last year in the central city of Wuhan before spreading rapidly, but has reported no confirmed cases so far, though several people have been quarantined in a Yangon hospital.

The government has urged citizens to avoid public gatherings and the country's military cancelled its annual parade scheduled for late March, citing the virus.

While the outbreak appears to be easing in China, it has surged elsewhere and countries other than China now account for about three-quarters of new infections.

Japan on Monday confirmed at least 19 new coronavirus cases, bringing the number of infections in the country to 980, including passengers who were infected on the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship.

Last month, a cruise ship arrived in the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville having been turned away at five other ports after leaving Hong Kong.

Silversea Cruises is owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises.

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