Thousands Trapped on Cruise Ship Quarantined Over Coronavirus Fears

Around 6,000 people were trapped on board the Costa Smeralda cruise ship in the Italian port of Civitavecchia, about 44 miles northwest of Rome, on Thursday after two passengers were suspected of having contracted the deadly coronavirus, the cruise company told Newsweek.

The coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has killed more than 130 people, with 68 cases confirmed outside China, including at least five cases in the U.S., according to the latest report released by the World Health Organization on Wednesday.

The two passengers (a 54-year-old Chinese woman and another passenger described as her "travel mate") have been put in isolation at the hospital on board the cruise ship since last night, according to a statement by Costa Cruises released to Newsweek.

"As soon as the suspected case was detected, the medical team on board immediately activated all the relevant health procedures to promptly isolate and manage the clinical condition. The health authority has been immediately notified and is now on board to conduct all the pertinent measures," the company said in a statement.

No one has been allowed to leave the ship while medical checks continued into afternoon, according to a spokesperson for Costa Cruises, who added it may take "a few hours" for the situation to become clear, Reuters reports.

The ship is expected to be detained at the Italian port "until we have an update on the health tests," the port captain Vincenzo Leone told The Local.

The couple boarded the ship on January 25 at the port of Savona and suffered a fever and troubled breathing after embarking on the ship. The ship visited Marseilles in France and both Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca in Spain before docking in Civitavecchia on Thursday. Costa Smeralda operates seven-day cruises through the Western Mediterranean, also calling at the Italian port city of La Spezia. The company's future cruise itineraries have not been impacted.

"It is our utmost priority to ensure the health and safety of passengers and crew. The company is at the complete disposal of the Health Authority and their indication will be strictly applied. Costa Cruises continue to apply the relevant national policies and epidemic developments, as per World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indications," the company said.

The ongoing coronavirus outbreak has caused a wave of fear around the world, including in the U.S. The WHO is currently discussing whether the coronavirus should be categorized as an international public health crisis. The WHO's International Health Regulations Emergency Committee is expected to meet today to decide whether to declare an international public health emergency.

Several airlines have suspended flights to China while the country considered a ban on all flights to China, USA Today reported. On Monday the U.S. State Department raised its travel advisory for China to Level 3, warning people to "reconsider travel to China." The warning level for the Hubei province, home to Wuhan, remains at Level 4, the highest level, with travelers being told: "Do not travel to Hubei province," according to the State Department advisory.

Costa Smeralda cruise ship Civitavecchia January 2020
The Costa Smeralda cruise ship is docked at the Civitavecchia port in Italy on January 30, 2020. Getty Images