Nile cruise ship quarantined after 45 coronavirus cases confirmed

Nile cruise ship quarantined after 45 coronavirus cases confirmed
As cases of coronavirus on an Egyptian cruise ship reach 45, a string of infections among American holidaymakers returning from Egypt signals a potentially bigger outbreak than current figures show.
4 min read
08 March, 2020
Coronavirus looks likely to seriously impact Egypt’s tourism sector [Getty]

A cruise ship on Egypt's Nile River with over 150 tourists and local crew was put under quarantine on Saturday in the southern city of Luxor, as 45 people on board tested positive for the new coronavirus, authorities said.

The new cases were confirmed during a press conference in Cairo on Saturday held by Health Minister Hala Zayed. Originally, 12 members of the ship's Egyptian crew had tested positive for the virus but did not show symptoms.

The original carrier had been a Taiwanese-American tourist who had previously been on the same ship. She tested positive when she returned to Taiwan, and everyone on the ship was subsequently tested.

Of the total 45 infected passengers and crew, 19 were foreigners, officials said. Zayed did not identify on the nationalities of the non-Egyptians.

In-depth: A tale of two outbreaks: How Gulf countries succeeded where Iran failed on containing coronavirus

Officials said those infected would be transferred to isolation in a hospital on Egypt's north coast. The passengers - who include Americans, French and other nationalities - and the remaining crew remained quarantined on the ship awaiting further test results. The US Embassy in Cairo said in a tweet it was working to provide consular services and assistance to the US citizens affected.

The new cases brought the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Egypt to 48, including 21 foreign nationals and 27 Egyptians.

Amonios Salah, who works as a chef on the ship, said that the crew received an inquiry from the Health Ministry about crew members showing flu-like symptoms, AP reported.

The 12 infected crew were isolated on the third floor of the vessel away from the tourists, including two children, the 30-year-old chef said. The tourists then waited for test results.“Some of us were sick. Some with fever,” he said.

The cruise started in Luxor, about 655 kilometers (405 miles) south of Cairo, on Sunday. The vessel, which includes 60 rooms, made three stops before reaching its destination at Aswan. On the return trip there were three more stops, Salah said, potentially expanding the number of people exposed to the virus.

“It's still unclear how many people came in contact with the group in the infected ship,” said a senior police officer in Luxor. Cruise ships on the Nile often dock side by side, with passengers getting on and off by walking through several other vessels.

Egyptian authorities have been tight-lipped about the virus outbreak, previously reporting only three confirmed cases, while cases in the wider Middle East region have surged to over 6,000.

The new cases in Egypt came just days after three people were diagnosed with coronavirus in Texas. Officials in the city of Houston said Thursday that they believe the three were exposed to the virus while on a trip to Egypt in late February.

On Saturday, officials in the US state of Maryland said three people — a married couple in their 70s, and a female in her 50s — tested positive in Montgomery County and had contracted the virus while on an Egyptian cruise of the Nile River.

It wasn't immediately clear if the Maryland and Texan tourists were on the same boat where the cluster occurred, how long the passengers on the ship had been quarantined, nor where exactly the initial Taiwanese tourist had contracted the virus.

The new and fast-spreading coronavirus could deliver a major blow to Egypt’s tourism industry. The government has been struggling for years to revive the vital sector following the country's 2011 Arab Spring uprising.

Egypt has not yet taken large-scale containment measures, such as closing schools and universities and cancelling major events. The discovery of the 45 cases coincided with the opening day of the Luxor African Film Festival.

The country's national air carrier, Egypt Air, has suspended direct flights to China since late January. The virus, which originated in China, has infected more than 100,000 people globally.

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