Passengers on a wandering cruise ship that had been turned away from ports around Asia over virus fear have begun disembarking from the vessels in Cambodia, welcomed with flowers by the country’s authoritarian leader.
Prime Minister Hun Sen greeted the first 100 tourists on February 14 as they stepped ashore at the port of Sihanoukville after two weeks stranded at sea.
The ship, the Westerdam, was scheduled to take 2,257 passengers and crew on a 14-day cruise around East Asia, starting in Hong Kong on February 1 and ending on February 14 in Yokohama, Japan.
But it was refused entry from Japan, Guam, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Thailand over fears it was carrying someone with the coronavirus that has killed nearly 1,400 people and infected more than 58,000, mostly in China.
Cambodia, which is a strong ally of China and receives massive aid from Beijing, said this week that the boat could dock in Sihanoukville.
“Cambodia does this because Cambodia pays more attention to human rights…we respect the rights of the more than 2,000 people on the boat,” Hun Sen said as he welcomed passengers.
The premier said all of the remaining passengers and crew will be allowed to leave the ship after health officials said that no cases of the virus, known as COVID-19, were found on those aboard.
Another cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, remained in quarantine at a Japanese port, with some elderly passengers being allowed off the vessel and into government-designated lodging.
Officials have detected 218 virus cases among the 3,700 passengers and crew aboard the ship.
Meanwhile, China’s Hubei Province in February 14 reported that the death toll from the outbreak had risen by 121 people in the past day, with the total number of cases increasing by almost 5,000 people.
Health officials said 88 of the new deaths occurred in the provincial capital of Wuhan, considered the epicenter of the flu-like virus outbreak.
Chinese officials on February 14 said that the overall death toll in the country was 1,380, with 55,748 total cases.
Adam Kamradt-Scott, an infectious diseases expert at the Center for International Security Studies at the University of Sydney, told Reuters that the new figures offer no indication that the outbreak is nearing a peak.
“Based on the current trend in confirmed cases, this appears to be a clear indication that while the Chinese authorities are doing their best to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the fairly drastic measures they have implemented to date would appear to have been too little, too late,” he said.
Late on February 13, the United States expressed concerns about the North Korean people’s vulnerability to the deadly outbreak in neighboring China and said it was ready to assist organizations attempting to contain the spread of the disease in the impoverished nation.
A State Department statement said that Washington “is deeply concerned about the vulnerability of the North Korean people to a coronavirus outbreak.”
“We strongly support and encourage the work of U.S. and international aid and health organizations to counter and contain the spread of coronavirus in [North Korea].”
“The United States is ready and prepared to expeditiously facilitate the approval of assistance from these organizations,” it said.
The offer of help comes event as the United States maintains strict sanctions against Pyongyang over the reclusive state’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.