Public panics over cruise ship’s Phuket port call

Passengers are scanned for fever Thursday upon disembarking the Seabourn Ovation on Phuket. Photo: 
Courtesy Saksith Saiyasombut / Twitter
Passengers are scanned for fever Thursday upon disembarking the Seabourn Ovation on Phuket. Photo: Courtesy Saksith Saiyasombut / Twitter

A Dutch-flagged cruise ship refused port by Thailand and four other nations was finally allowed to dock in Cambodia this morning as public furor erupted over another vessel making a port call in the south.

After some Wednesday evening drama saw the Laem Chabang port announce the MS Westerdam would not be allowed to dock as it was heading there under naval escort, the vessel reversed course and headed toward Sihanoukville after Phnom Penh said it would allow its more than 2,000 passengers ashore on humanitarian grounds.

Though there were no known infections of what’s now called the COVID-19 coronavirus aboard, Thais reacted angrily to word the ship was heading to shore Wednesday evening. Hours later, the authorities this morning were trying to dispel fears that another cruise ship’s stop in Phuket posed any risk to public health.

The MV Seabourn Ovation, which departed Hong Kong on Feb. 1 and revised its itinerary due to restrictions put in place elsewhere, began a 10-hour port call to the resort island today before continuing to Singapore.

Thailand is one of few nations in the region not to impose restrictions on sea or air travel during the current coronavirus outbreak.

Despite there being no known infections aboard the vessel’s roughly 1,000 passengers and crew, it nonetheless provoked a rabid response online, where the hashtag #SeabournOvation was trending atop Thai Twitter.

“IT IS NOT HUMANITY. IT IS YOUR COUNTRY’S SELFISHNESS,” @Faaiindeed tweeted. “Also, It’s super ridiculous for the countries REJECTING #Westerdam and #seabournovation to ask for HUMANITY from Thailand? Don’t force other country to use their resources to treat you!”


There were no reports of any Chinese nationals aboard the vessel, Transport Minister Atirat Rattanaset said. Health officials warned the public not to overreact, as more cruise ships routinely make regular stops. Another ship, the Quantum of the Seas, docked at Phuket’s Patong Beach at 10am this morning.

In Geneva, World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom thanked Cambodian Health Minister Mam Bunheng for giving port to the Westerdam, citing it as “an example of the intl. solidarity we have consistently been calling for” in a tweet.

Surge in cases

Singapore and Hong Kong both reached 50 known infections today as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases doubled in China’s worst-hit province where the outbreak began.

The largest single-day increase in Hubei province – 14,840 new cases – seemed to dispel a sense that transmission may be slowing. Nearly 60,000 people have been infected, more than a thousand of whom have died in China, according to health agencies there on Thursday morning.

Medical resources are taxed in the city where the virus first emerged as at least 500 hospital workers have become infected, according to South China Morning Post, which cited sources inside Wuhan’s hospitals.

The virus continues to spread aboard another cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, which has been locked down just offshore from Yokoho, Japan. At least 175 passengers and one Japanese health inspector have tested positive.

Across the globe, the United Kingdom reported its first case in London, bringing the total tally to 9. The new patient is said to be a Chinese woman living in London. She flew into the country from China at the weekend and called the emergency medical hotline when she developed symptoms after landing.

Major global events continue to be affected by the outbreak including MWC Barcelona, the world’s largest mobile industry gathering, which has now been canceled less than two weeks before it was to begin.


A bank employee and two more churchgoers have been infected with the virus in Singapore, the health ministry announced last night. Six more people were deemed to have recovered and been discharged from hospitals yesterday.

The unnamed bank employee, 62, works for Singapore’s DBS and tested positive Wednesday morning, causing 300 of his colleagues to be evacuated from the Marina Bay Financial Center Tower 3. The Singaporean man is now isolated at the National Center for Infectious Diseases, or NCID.

The other two new infections also involve Singaporean men, aged 34 and 46, working for the Grace Assembly of God Church. They tested positive Tuesday.

Both had visited church outlets on Tanglin Road and in Bukit Batok before being hospitalized. The church has suspended gatherings for the rest of February.

The younger man lives on Bukit Batok Street 25 while the other stays on Toh Guan Road. They have been admitted to the NCID and National University Hospital, respectively.

Other than going to work, the 34-year-old also visited Malaysia on Jan. 26, the Plaza Singapura shopping center, the Star Vista mall, and Fusionopolis in the One-North office district. He had also visited four different clinics before being admitted to hospital on Feb. 10.

Hong Kong

The first person deemed to have recovered from the virus in Hong Kong was discharged yesterday from hospital after health officials confirmed two tests came back negative. The former patient was Hong Kong’s 18th confirmed case, a 25-year-old man from To Kwa Wan.

Protesters gathered outside a newly completed housing estate in Hong Kong yesterday to oppose a revived plan to use it as a quarantine zone. The crowd was broken up after police arrived at the scene.


Indonesia authorities are probing an online post stating that an infected patient in China visited Bali last month.

The post on the Chinese micro-blogging platform Weibo was published by the Anhui provincial government, stating that the man from Wuhan had flown to Denpasar on Jan. 22 and left the island for Shanghai six days later.

At least 76 Chinese tourists in Bali filed applications yesterday to extend their stays amid the coronavirus outbreak back home, according to the Ngurah Rai Immigration Office. Some were required to pay penalties for overstaying before applying.

Meanwhile, social media influencers in Indonesia have made attempts to capitalize on the virality of the outbreak for likes, followers and views.

Indonesian YouTuber Saaih Halilintar, who posted a Feb. 5 video blog titled 2 orang kena VIRUS CORONA!, which translates to Two people infected with the coronavirus, has been accused of trivializing the disease outbreak by using it as clickbait.


Two Filipinos repatriated home from Wuhan were hospitalized yesterday due to possible COVID-19 symptoms. Both people – aged 1 and 34, tested negative and were returned to the quarantine zone in New Clark City.

The number of confirmed cases in the Philippines still stands at three, including one fatality and one who has been discharged from the hospital. But the country continues to probe hundreds suspected cases and has warned the public to brace for local transmissions.

Out of 408 people considered at-risk, 208 have tested negative and will be discharged from hospitals.


The WHO yesterday advised the Malaysian government to brace for wider transmission of COVID-19 infections, suggesting the country also monitor geographical spread and trends on top of testing all suspected cases and conducting contact tracing.

The advice from the regional director for the Western Pacific, Takeshi Kasai, follows new information that the virus may be more transmissible than early data suggested.

Anti-Chinese sentiments due to the outbreak’s origins in China have apparently affected a Malaysian student who says she was evicted by her landlord in Perth, Western Australia.

The student came back from Malaysia for Chinese New Year celebrations only to find the locks had been changed and a note on the front door saying: “WARNING – NO TRESPASSING”

“House in lockdown due to coronavirus … Due to your failure to stay in contact with me with World Health Organisation GLOBAL EMERGENCY over coronavirus you are no longer welcome in this house,” the note read.

Additional reporting Chayanit Itthipongmaetee


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Indonesian Youtuber Saaih Halilintar accused of trivializing suicide attempt and coronavirus outbreak for views


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