Coronavirus Outbreak on Cruise Ship's First Voyage Post-Lockdown as 12 Crew Infected

A dozen cruise crew members have tested positive for the novel coronavirus on the Mein Schiff 6 cruise ship in Greece operated by Germany's TUI Cruises. The ship has more than 1,500 people on board, including more than 900 passengers.

The ship was reported to be the first cruise vessel to dock in Greece after lockdown measures were first imposed back in March. The country began lifting restrictions from May.

The ship began its voyage in Heraklion, the capital of the southern Greek island of Crete, on Sunday evening and was due to sail to Piraeus, the country's main port near Athens (the Greek capital), before heading to the island of Corfu, Greece's Shipping Ministry confirmed Monday.

The infections were reported after 150 of the ship's 666 crew members were tested for the virus. All 922 passengers on the ship tested negative for the virus before boarding. The 12 infected crew members were reported to be asymptomatic and have a "low viral load," according to Greek health authorities.

In a statement to Newsweek, TUI confirmed: "On Monday morning we received positive test results from 12 crew members of Mein Schiff 6 from an external laboratory. The entire crew has not become conspicuous in the past 14 days.

"None of the 12 crew members has any symptoms. To rule out the unlikely case of infection, the persons concerned are currently being tested again with our PCR [polymerase chain reaction] rapid test device on board. These tests are currently being conducted, the first results came out to be negative.

"In addition, we will take further swabs from the crew members and send them to an external laboratory. As a pure precautionary measure and in accordance with the strict procedures for resuming cruise operations, which have been agreed with the authorities in Greece, the persons concerned were immediately isolated on board," the statement said.

The Mein Shiff 6 cruise ship is currently moored off the Aegean island of Milos, a coastguard spokesperson told the Agence France-Presse (AFP).

TUI confirmed in the statement: "We will stick to our original itinerary and sail to Piräus [Piraeus] tomorrow [Tuesday], this has been decided in accordance with the Greek authorities. Thanks to the extensive hygiene measures and clearance rules on board, there is no reason for guests and crew to worry."

The ship is expected to arrive at Piraeus on Tuesday, where officials from the National Public Health Organization will be re-testing the 12 infected individuals, in addition to anyone else the ship's crew and on-board doctor determine should be tested, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

TUI cruise ship Santorini Greece 2018
A TUI cruise ship pictured in Santorini, Greece on July 15, 2018. A dozen crew members aboard TUI's Mein Schiff 6 cruise ship in Greece have tested positive for COVID-19, TUI Cruises confirmed Monday. Athanasios Gioumpasis/Getty Images

All of TUI Cruises' crew members are tested before they board a cruise ship and "go into a 14-day-self-isolation on board before starting their work," and "in the course of the early warning system, the crew on board is furthermore regularly tested for COVID-19," TUI noted in the statement.

"We have prepared very carefully for the resumption of cruises in these exceptional times, both on land and on board, and have coordinated all processes with the relevant authorities. In addition to prevention before and during the voyage, extensive hygiene measures and distance rules on board, TUI Cruises also has defined processes on board in case of possible COVID 19 cases, which are now taking effect," the statement confirmed.

The latest infections come as confirmed cases in Greece approach nearly 17,500, as of Monday, according to the latest report by Johns Hopkins University (JHU).

Weekly new cases in Greece flattened out from mid-April to late July, before increasing through early August. From then, weekly new cases flattened until late August before rising again through mid-September, according to the latest report from the World Health Organization (WHO).

The wider picture

The novel coronavirus has infected more than 33.1 million people across the globe since it was first reported in Wuhan, China, including more than 7.1 million in the U.S. More than 998,600 have died following infection, while more than 22.9 million have reportedly recovered as of Monday, according to JHU.

The graphics below, provided by Statista, illustrate the spread of COVID-19 cases in countries across the globe.

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The graphic below, also provided by Statista, illustrates U.S. states with the most COVID-19 cases.

COVID-19 cases in U.S.