PUTRAJAYA: All cruises originating from or had previously visited China will not be allowed to enter Malaysia in view of the COVID-19 outbreak, Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail said on Sunday (Feb 16).
The decision came after an American passenger aboard MS Westerdam who disembarked in Cambodia tested positive for COVID-19 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on Saturday.
“For the time being, the government has decided not to allow any cruise ship from, or transited at, any ports in China to enter Malaysia,” Dr Wan Azizah said.
MS Westerdam docked in Cambodia on Thursday carrying 1,455 passengers and 802 crew members, after being turned away by Japan, Taiwan, Guam, the Philippines and Thailand.
The American woman, 83, and her husband, 85, were among 145 passengers of MS Westerdam who flew to Malaysia on Friday.
The couple was found to be symptomatic upon arrival and were sent to the Sungai Buloh Hospital, where the wife was diagnosed with COVID-19. The husband tested negative.
MS Westerdam's operator, Carnival Corp unit Holland America Inc, had described the test result as “preliminary” while Cambodian authorities called on Malaysia to review its test results.
In response, Dr Wan Azizah said the husband and wife were tested again late Saturday night, with the same results obtained.
“They say it could be a false positive. No," she said.
The passengers on board were reportedly tested regularly for the coronavirus and Cambodia had said that it had tested 20 passengers once it docked.
“We are not disputing (Cambodia's tests). But since the passengers reached us, we have to be careful. As for Cambodia, they did what they think was sufficient,” she said.
As a precautionary measure, all remaining MS Westerdam passengers who are currently still in Cambodia will not be allowed to enter Malaysia since they are considered to have had close contact with the American patient, the deputy prime minister said.
Meanwhile, Malaysia Airlines has also cancelled the remaining three chartered flights booked by cruise operator Holland America Line to fly MS Westerdam passengers back home via KLIA.
The flights were scheduled to fly between Feb 14 and Feb 16. Only the first flight - carrying the American patient - had arrived in Malaysia.
PASSENGERS TESTED NEGATIVE ALLOWED TO FLY HOME
Of the 145 passengers who arrived in Malaysia, 143 were asymptomatic, Dr Wan Azizah said.
A total of 137 had continued their journey back home, and six people who were waiting for their connecting flights back home were tested negative for COVID-19, she added.
Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the six passengers - four citizens of the United States and two from the Netherlands, are in good health.
"The embassies have been informed of the test results and the passengers will be allowed to board their flights in order to continue their journey to their respective destinations," Dr Noor Hisham said in a statement.
ONE MORE PATIENT RECOVERS AND DISCHARGED FROM HOSPITAL
Providing an update on COVID-19 cases in Malaysia, Dr Wan Azizah said a female patient from China, who was the 15th confirmed case in the country, has fully recovered, bringing the total number of recovered patients to eight.
She was discharged from Hospital Permai in Johor Bahru on Saturday. The remaining 14 patients continue to receive treatment in hospitals, she added.
Dr Wan Azizah said no new confirmed cases were reported on Sunday.
Editor's note: This story has been updated after Malaysia's Health Ministry corrected its initial statement and said it was the cruise operator Holland America Line that booked the Malaysia Airlines flights, not the United States Embassy as stated earlier.