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HEALTH

Coronavirus: Fears on cruise ship docked at Italian port after case confirmed

Despite the protests of the local mayor, a cruise ship carrying hundreds of quarantined international holidaymakers docked at an Italian port on Wednesday.

Coronavirus: Fears on cruise ship docked at Italian port after case confirmed
Civitavecchia mayor Ernesto Tedesco and police officers give a press conference in front of the ship on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

Passenners on the Costa Victoria have been confined to their cabins after one woman tested positive and disembarked in Greece sparking fears among those on board.

“We're all very, very, very concerned,” Dutch passenger Hans Rijkelijkhuizen told AFP from aboard the Costa Victoria, after it docked in Civitavecchia near Rome, despite the mayor saying none of the passengers “will be allowed in my town.”

The vessel has been looking for a safe port after evacuating an Argentine woman who fell ill with respiratory problems.

The 726 passengers were placed in lockdown in their cabins on Monday after the woman, 63, was taken off the ship in Crete.

Passengers on board the ship as it docked on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

“There are lots of people on board with a temperature,” said Rijkelijkhuizen, 78, who was on the cruise with his 74-year old wife.

Rijkelijkhuizen, who had a slight fever and a cough, said many, including he and his wife, had been given paracetamol by the ship doctor.

“Do we have the virus? We don't know,” he said, standing on the tiny balcony of his cabin in a red wind jacket.

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Briton Rimal Shah, 56, was on the ship with 18 friends from London – most of them in their 70s with pre-existing health conditions.

There was “a lot of anxiety on board”, said Shah.

“That woman with the coronavirus will have been roaming the ship for days before being disembarked,” he told AFP.

The liner had been due to sail to Venice, but frightened passengers had begged not to be taken to northern Italy, which has been hit hardest by the outbreak.

“They wanted to take us into the mouth of the virus,” Shah said.

Italian health authorities boarded the Victoria on its arrival, but Rijkelijkhuizen said the passengers had not been tested.

A masked police officer pictures in front of the ship.. Photo: AFP

He and the Spanish and German couples in his neighbouring cabins waited anxiously for news, picking at their lunch of pasta, chips, rice and king prawns.

Most of the liner's balconies were empty. On one, a lone figure could be seen jogging on the spot for exercise.

A message in multiple languages over loudspeaker called passengers from specific decks to the ship's theatre to have their temperatures taken, while warning all others: “Stay in your cabins.”

Civitavecchia's mayor Ernesto Tedesco said he had tried to stop the liner, which has a large number of Australian and French passengers, from docking – but had been overruled.

Those given the green light to disembark would be allowed off on Thursday morning, he said.

“I expect anyone with the virus to be quarantined on the ship. Those who disembark will not be allowed in my town. I don't want suitcase-wheeling tourists here,” he said.

Civitavecchia mayor Ernesto Tedesco pictures in front of the ship on Wednesday. Photo: AFP

Those allowed off the Victoria would likely be put on coaches and taken directly to Rome's Fiumicino airport, the mayor said.

Shah said he had been lobbying the British government to fly his group home

He had repeatedly requested Costa cancel the cruise early in the month-long trip, when stop after stop was cancelled, but had been “stonewalled”.

Another Costa cruise ship with suspected coronavirus cases, the Diadema, was also making its way to Italy. It is expected to arrive in Civitavecchia on Friday.

The 1,255 people on board were all crew members and had been isolated in their cabins, Costa said, after a crew member who was disembarked in Dubai on March 13 tested positive.

Another with breathing difficulties had since also been disembarked and hospitalised, while five more were showing flu-like symptoms, the company said.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

The mandatory EU-wide mask requirement for air travel is set to be dropped from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still require passengers to wear masks on some or all flights

Covid face mask rule on flights in Europe set to be eased

Europe-wide facemask rules on flights are set to be ditched as early as next week in light of new recommendations from health and air safety experts.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) dropped recommendations for mandatory mask-wearing in airports and during flights in updated Covid-19 safety measures for travel issued on Wednesday, May 11th.

The new rules are expected to be rolled out from Monday, May 16th, but airlines may still continue to require the wearing of masks on some or all of flights. And the updated health safety measures still say that wearing a face mask remains one of the best ways to protect against the transmission of the virus.

The joint EASA/ECDC statement reminded travellers that masks may still be required on flights to destinations in certain countries that still require the wearing of masks on public transport and in transport hubs.

It also recommends that vulnerable passengers should continue to wear a face mask regardless of the rules, ideally an FFP2/N95/KN95 type mask which offers a higher level of protection than a standard surgical mask.

“From next week, face masks will no longer need to be mandatory in air travel in all cases, broadly aligning with the changing requirements of national authorities across Europe for public transport,” EASA executive director Patrick Ky said in the statement. 

“For passengers and air crews, this is a big step forward in the normalisation of air travel. Passengers should however behave responsibly and respect the choices of others around them. And a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, for the reassurance of those seated nearby.”  

ECDC director Andrea Ammon added: “The development and continuous updates to the Aviation Health Safety Protocol in light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic have given travellers and aviation personnel better knowledge of the risks of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. 

“While risks do remain, we have seen that non-pharmaceutical interventions and vaccines have allowed our lives to begin to return to normal. 

“While mandatory mask-wearing in all situations is no longer recommended, it is important to be mindful that together with physical distancing and good hand hygiene it is one of the best methods of reducing transmission. 

“The rules and requirements of departure and destination states should be respected and applied consistently, and travel operators should take care to inform passengers of any required measures in a timely manner.”

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