SINGAPORE - All passengers were cleared to disembark from a cruise ship that docked at Singapore on Tuesday (Mar 10) morning after being rejected at several ports over fears about the coronavirus.
It took about 14 hours - from 8.40am to around 11pm - for all 1,631 passengers to leave the Costa Fortuna.
All foreign passengers were sent directly to their airport or their hotels by midnight, said the Health Ministry (MOH), Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) and Singapore Tourism Board in a joint statement on Tuesday night.
They added that all foreign passengers will depart from Singapore within the next two days.
The joint statement did not specify if any measures will be in place to monitor those that have returned to their hotels.
Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force combating the spread of the coronavirus, said in a Facebook post on Tuesday night that he understood why some have raised concerns about allowing the ship to dock in Singapore.
"Many still remember what happened in other cruise ships where there had been virus outbreaks," he said.
"But this case is different. All passengers, including two Singaporeans, boarded the ship in Singapore on Mar 3. They were all checked and temperature-screened before they boarded.
"They had sailed off and were scheduled to return to Singapore later. Should we then deny them from coming back without any basis? That would not have been right."
Mr Wong said the authorities thus allowed the ship to dock but with extra precautions. This includes having a doctor to certify that all passengers were well before they left the ship, he said.
The ship was rejected by ports in Penang and Phuket last week, even though the ship's operator had said no one on board was ill.
In a maritime declaration of health submitted at 6am on Tuesday, the vessel's captain reiterated that its passengers and crew were not feverish and did not show symptoms of respiratory illness. Penalties for making a false declaration include jail of up to six months.
The Costa Fortuna docked at the Marina Bay Cruise Centre at about 7.35am.
The authorities said passengers who have been to areas hard hit by the coronavirus in the past 14 days such as Italy and South Korea were individually screened by MOH-licensed doctors and certified fit to travel. They were then taken directly to the airport for their flights.
On why these passengers were not subject to travel restrictions barring people with recent travel history from entering Singapore, the authorities said they had entered the country and boarded Costa Fortuna on March 3, before the travel ban took effect at 11.59pm on March 4.
All passengers and crew had been checked by the ship doctor, and subjected to further thermal and visual screenings by MOH-licensed healthcare providers.
More than 600 passengers had disembarked from the ship as of noon. There were fewer than 50 left on board at 9.30pm.
When The Straits Times arrived at the cruise centre about 7am, the arrival and departure halls were closed to the public.
Security officers at the entrance of the cruise centre prevented reporters from entering the compound.
For the first hour after the ship docked, there was little activity except workers walking in and out of the ship via a link bridge to the terminal. Some passengers could be seen looking out of their balconies.
ST observed that the first group of passengers left the ship at about 8.40am and were seen at the Customs area about 15 minutes later.
By about 11.30am, more than 400 people had left in about 20 buses, headed to Changi Airport and various hotels.
The passengers were of various nationalities, including French, Belgian, British, Austrian and German.
Passengers with recent travel history to affected areas who have a fever or exhibit other symptoms of respiratory illness would have been taken directly to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases.
Other passengers with fever or other symptoms of respiratory illness would have been required to undergo a swab test for the coronavirus.
Singapore is a home port for the Costa Fortuna and has received the ship 16 times since last December.
According to Malaysian officials, the Costa Fortuna is carrying about 60 Italians.
Italy has become one of the countries hardest hit by Covid-19. It announced a nationwide lockdown on Monday, with the country now having more than 9,000 coronavirus cases and almost 500 deaths.