A cruise ship due to dock in Bermuda after it was at the centre of a scare over a deadly strain of coronavirus is no more a threat than any other vessel, the health minister said yesterday.
Kim Wilson said that no passengers or crew on the New Jersey-based Anthem of the Seas had been found to have the new 2019-nCoV coronavirus and that four passengers who became ill had been cleared of infection by the strain.
Armell Thomas, a senior environmental health officer, confirmed that ferry pilots had “aired concerns and opinions” over the transportation of cruise ship passengers.
Mr Thomas added: “They were very concerned because they are on the front line; they are satisfied at this time.”
Cheryl Peek-Ball, the Chief Medical Officer, said people concerned over the potential importation of the virus “will know almost as soon as we know”.
She added: “We are not in the business of keeping back information about public safety.
“Information that comes in to us has to be verified and digested before it is sent out. It’s very important that social media not get ahead of the actual facts and evidence.”
Dr Peek-Ball admitted that screening at ports or at the airport required people to volunteer information about their previous travel and possible exposure.
She said: “We have to accept we are relying on people to be open and transparent with us.”
She was speaking as the Government acted to allay fears over the virus, which first appeared in Wuhan, China, and has killed more than 900 people in the country and infected more than 40,000.
The Royal Caribbean cruise liner was held up in its home port of Bayonne over the weekend as it prepared to travel to the Bahamas.
The ship’s departure was delayed because four passengers became ill and the destination was changed to Bermuda.
Ms Wilson emphasised that the decision to reroute the vessel to Bermuda was taken to “provide a better experience for passengers whose cruise time was shortened” because of the delay.
She added: “This was simply a logistical decision taken by the cruise line and rumours to the contrary should be ignored.”
After tests, confirmed by the US Centres for Disease Control, it was found that one of the sick passengers had influenza.
Different times have been given in news reports on the incubation period for the new coronavirus.
But Dr Peek-Ball said: “The fact is, it appears that until you’re having symptoms, until you start getting sick, you do not pose a risk to others.”
Travellers arriving in Bermuda will undergo a travel risk assessment by a health officer, and could have their health monitored and movement on island restricted for up to 14 days.
Patricia Gordon-Pamplin, the Shadow Minister of Health, said: “While New Jersey may be comfortable that there are no episodes of the virus in that state at this juncture, the truth is that they really just don’t know, and unfortunately, this is a situation where only time will tell the real story.
“The confirmation by another jurisdiction as to their health and safety is in no way a guarantee that Bermuda will be protected, and that we have the ability to manage this challenge should even one incident of the coronavirus surface.