A cruise-ship passenger tested positive for the coronavirus after hundreds of other passengers disembarked and dispersed all over the world

mmark@businessinsider.com (Michelle Mark)
Passengers of the MS Westerdam disembarking at the port of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, on Saturday.

Associated Press/Heng Sinith

  • Health officials on Saturday said they'd found a coronavirus case among the hundreds of passengers who disembarked a cruise ship in Cambodia, The New York Times reported.
  • The Westerdam cruise ship spent weeks stranded at sea after five ports rejected it over coronavirus fears.
  • Now, more than 1,000 passengers from the ship have proceeded to destinations around the world, and health officials are struggling to determine how to handle the situation.
  • One expert told The Times the incident could mark a "turning point" in the effort to keep the coronavirus outbreak mostly confined to China.
  • The news comes amid an international debate over how to handle quarantined cruise ships with passengers from multiple countries.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Health officials on Saturday said a woman who recently disembarked from a cruise ship tested positive for the coronavirus — after hundreds of other passengers left the ship and dispersed to destinations around the world, The New York Times reported Saturday.

The cruise ship, the MS Westerdam, spent weeks stranded at sea after five ports rejected it despite no known infections at the time. The Cambodian government eventually allowed the ship to dock, and hundreds of passengers disembarked.

But one of those passengers, an American woman, was stopped at the thermal scanners at a Kuala Lumpur airport in Malaysia and later tested positive for the virus, The Times reported.

More than 1,000 other passengers left the ship at the same time, and The Times reported that many of them took flights to Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, where they intended to travel home.

The Times reported that many of those passengers went sightseeing locally or traveling internationally — on Sunday passengers were en route to destinations on at least three continents, in countries such as the United States, the Netherlands, and Australia.

Passengers of the MS Westerdam disembarking at the port of Sihanoukville on Saturday.

Associated Press/Heng Sinith

Experts told the newspaper the best path forward would be to track down every passenger and quarantine them for two weeks.

One expert, William Schaffner, an infectious-disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told The Times the news could mark "a turning point" in the struggle to keep the outbreak confined mostly to China.

The news comes amid a global discourse over how to handle quarantined cruise ships with passengers from multiple countries.

One coronavirus-stricken cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, is carrying roughly 3,500 passengers and crew, with 286 people who tested positive for the virus. The ship is in Japan's port of Yokohama, and passengers have been mostly confined to their rooms since February 4.

In recent days, experts have decried the decision to keep passengers who have tested negative for the coronavirus aboard. The experts said despite the quarantine there was a risk of spreading the coronavirus throughout the ship.

"They've basically trapped a bunch of people in a large container with [the] virus," David Fisman, an epidemiology professor at the University of Toronto, told Vox. "So [I'm] assuming 'quarantine' is generating active transmission."

Morgan McFall-Johnsen contributed to this report.

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