Coronavirus: Passengers die in sickness outbreak on cruise

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image copyrightRose Harper
image captionRich and Rose Harper have been on the MS Zaandam since 7 March

Four passengers have died on a cruise ship amid a suspected coronavirus outbreak which has left passengers confined to cabins.

Rose and Rich Harper, from Portland, Dorset, said nearly 150 passengers and crew on the MS Zaandam had flu-like symptoms.

They said the vessel had been denied entry to several South American ports.

Cruise operator Holland America said four "older guests" had died and two passengers had tested positive.

In a statement the firm said: "Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and we are doing everything we can to support them during this difficult time.

"Currently, 53 guests (4%) and 85 crew (14%) have reported to Zaandam's medical center with influenza-like illness symptoms. There are 1,243 guests and 586 crew on board."

Mr and Mrs Harper said they had been allowed out for 30 minutes' exercise on Wednesday after four days of confinement.

image copyrightRose Harper
image captionThe couple said they are grateful they have been able to stay healthy

Mr Harper said the outbreak was first reported two weeks after the cruise began in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 7 March.

He said: "The captain told passengers to return to their cabins and stay, as the ship was going to be in lockdown.

"On Wednesday it was our first day out. We were allowed out of the cabin on to the deck for just 30 minutes.

"Everything is like Groundhog Day at the moment. But I suppose at least we're still healthy."

Mrs Harper added: "We have a delivery of three meals a day. They knock the door and leave the food outside.

"It's just so worrying... You've just got to keep safe and hope everybody else keeps safe."

'Abundance of caution'

The couple praised the ship's crew for pushing crosswords under the door and for supplying packs of cards.

They said the ship had begun to run out of food and fuel before being resupplied at sea off Chile.

In a statement, Holland America said MS Zaandam was now well-provisioned.

It said: "Out of an abundance of caution and immediately after noting the early signs of elevated numbers of illness, all guests were asked to remain in their staterooms on March 22."

The firm said another cruise ship had supplied Covid-19 test kits to the Zaandam on Thursday and two guests had tested positive.

Holland America said it planned to transfer some passengers to the sister ship, Rotterdam, while other passengers would disembark at Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

It said free telephone counselling had been offered to passengers and crew.

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