MSC Meraviglia cruise ship to dock in Cozumel, Mexico despite coronavirus fears

A passenger cruise ship is headed for Mexico’s port city of Cozumel after Jamaican and Grand Cayman authorities barred its passengers from disembarking due to fears of the fast-spreading coronavirus

MSC Meraviglia cruise ship to dock in Cozumel, Mexico despite coronavirus fears
The cruise ship will dock in Cozumel on February 26 - Photo: File photo/REUTERS
English 26/02/2020 17:10 Newsroom & Agencies Mexico City Anthony Esposito, Diego Ore, Drazen Jorgic, Ana Isabel Martínez, Stefanie Eschenbacher & Bill Berkrot/REUTERS & Adriana Varillas/EL UNIVERSAL Actualizada 19:42

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A passenger cruise ship is headed for Mexico’s port city of Cozumel after Jamaican and Grand Cayman authorities barred its passengers from disembarking due to fears of the fast-spreading coronavirus, ship operator MSC Cruises said on Wednesday.

MSC Cruises said the medical records of the MSC Meraviglia show “one single case of common seasonal flu” by a passenger who has not traveled in any areas impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.

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The company added that the passenger was isolated for security measures but that no other cases of type A influenza have been discovered on board MSC Meraviglia and no coronavirus cases have been reported on any of its ships.

“The crewmember who was diagnosed with common seasonal flu is in a stable condition, receiving anti-viral treatment and medication, and is now free of fever and nearly recovered,” the company said.

MSC Cruises said authorities in Jamaica and Grand Cayman turned away the ship “simply based on fears” and added it is in contact with Mexican health authorities.

Cruise ships have been in the spotlight after confirmed coronavirus cases on British-registered Diamond Princess approached 700 with three deaths since the ship docked at a Japanese port on February 3.

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The new coronavirus is believed to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and has infected about 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700, the vast majority in China. But there have now been cases in at least 30 countries with large, spreading outbreaks in South Korea, Iran, and Italy.

Initially, Mexican port authorities revoked permission for cruise ship MSC Meraviglia to disembark on the island of Cozumel over coronavirus fears, a port official said.

However, through a “rectification” document issued by sea authorities, it was informed that the cruise is allowed to disembark in Cozumel after its arrival to Punta Langosta had been canceled.

The document says that the ship can dock in the exterior band of the cruise terminal since “February 26, 2020, at 21:00 until 18:00 of February 27, 2020.”

A previous document had canceled that possibility, by instructions of International Health in Cozumel, under the request of MSC Cruises itself.

However, the second document issued at 15:42 invalidates the first one: “The cancelation notice sent previously is canceled due to the rectification of the arrival by International Health in Cozumel, Quintana Roo” and it adds that the corresponding authorities must be present at Punta Langosta at 21:00.

On Wednesday night, sources of the Navy Ministry informed that the authorization for the cruise ship was not yet defined for it was lacking authorization from International Health.

Nevertheless, what first impeded the MSC Meraviglia to dock at Cozumel was the weather, for a cold front arrived at Quintana Roo.

The arrival of the cruise ship has caused fear among the population due to the rumor one of its crewmembers was infected with coronavirus, which has been denied by MSC Cruises and confirmed by the Quintana Roo government through its Health Ministry (SESA) explaining that there are no risks of infection.

Both the mayor Pedro Joaquín Delbouis and the head of SESA, Alejandra Aguirre, have each assured that the passenger on board the cruise has a respiratory disease that does not comply with the operational definition for COVID-19.

Delbouis added that the MSC Meraviglia was anchored 100 m from Cozumel due, in part, to bad weather, but also because it was waiting for health authorities to board it to verify the diagnosis of the passenger. Meanwhile, a group of people gathered in front of the Cozumel island to demand the halt of disembarkment until the passengers’ temperature is not evaluated.

For his part, the governor of Quintana Roo Carlos Joaquín González posted on his Twitter account that the cruise ship had docked at Cozumel but that there is no authorization for disembarkment.

On his daily news conference, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said that his government could not deny the arrival of the MSC Meraviglia to Cozumel, Quintana Roo out of humanity.

“It is allowed to dock, to disembark; we have the instruction for there to be an inspection and allow its arrival (…) We cannot act with discrimination; we will comply with the sanitary rules; we cannot close our ports or airports; we cannot reject those who come to Mexico (…) Why aren’t we going to help them? It’s a matter of humanity; it’s regrettable that there is rejection,” López Obrador said.

On Thursday afternoon, SESA reported that the results of the analysis made to a crewmember and a passenger of the MCS Meraviglia had ruled out the presence of coronavirus on the cruise ship.

The analysis was performed by International Health to a 27-year-old young man from the Philipines, and a 13-year-old female tourist from France, who began to show some respiratory disease symptoms.

In a news conference, Alejandra Aguirre Crespo added that although the tests were negative to the operational frame for coronavirus, health authorities have yet to determine the precise respiratory disease shown by the patients before allowing the cruise ship to disembark.

The tests were taken to laboratories in Chetumal and the results will be ready on Thursday night, according to Aguirre, who stressed that health authorities have strictly followed the international and national protocols for the case.

For his part, Pedro Joaquín Delbouis said that the original schedule of the Meraviglia considered its stay at the Punta Langosta dock until 18:00 of Thursday, but it can be extended with the port’s authorization.

MSC has previously manifested its desire to remain in Cozumel until Friday, waiting for the result of the analysis as well as for its 5,600 passengers to be able to disembark and enjoy the beauty of the island, considered the international top destination for cruise ships.

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The Health Ministry reported that, in addition to the MCS Meraviglia, another two vessels were inspected as part of routine procedures performed to guarantee security for tourists and the local population.

Alejandra Aguirre considered that Cozumel “was never in danger” because authorities were in touch with the vessel to know the status of the person who initially presented common flu symptoms.

On Thursday night, MSC informed that Mexican authorities had authorized the disembarkation of the Meraviglia. They announced the tests had dismissed the presence of coronavirus in the cruise ship and that both passengers have common flu.

The disembarkation of passengers was expected to take place on Friday morning and the cruise is set to leave by night.

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