Egypt says cruise ship quarantined over coronavirus cluster

AP , Saturday 7 Mar 2020

The cruise ship on Egypt's Nile River with over 150 tourists ــ include Americans, French and other nationalities ــ and local crew was in quarantine Saturday in the southern city of Luxor

Nile river boat
Nile river boat MS River Anuket docks in the city of Luxor in southern Egypt Saturday, March 7, 2020 (Photo: AP)

A cruise ship on Egypt's Nile River with over 150 tourists and local crew was in quarantine Saturday in the southern city of Luxor, after 12 people tested positive for the new coronavirus, authorities said.

A Taiwanese-American tourist who had previously been on the same ship tested positive when she returned to Taiwan. The World Health Organization informed Egyptian authorities, who tested everyone on the ship.

Health authorities found a dozen of the ship's Egyptian crew members had contracted the fast-spreading virus, but did not show symptoms, according to a joint statement from Egypt's Health Ministry and the WHO on Friday.

The statement said the 12 will be transferred to isolation in a hospital on Egypt's north coast. The passengers _ who include Americans, French and other nationalities _ and the crew will remain quarantined on the ship awaiting further test results.

Amonios Salah, who works as a chef on the ship, however, told The Associated Press that the crew received an inquiry from the Health Ministry about crew members who are showing symptoms of flu.

"Some of us were sick. Some with fever,'' he said.

He said the 12 infected were isolated on the 3rd floor in the vessel away from the tourists, including two children, the 30-year-old chef said. The people inside the ship were waiting for test results.

The trip started from Luxor, some 655 kilometers (405 miles) south of Cairo, on Sunday and the cruise ship, which include 60 rooms, made three stops before reaching Aswan. On the way back there were three more stops, he said, potentially expanding the number of people exposed to the virus.

The new cases in Egypt came just days after three people were diagnosed with coronavirus in the U.S. state of 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.

It wasn't immediately clear if the 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.

Other countries around the world have closed schools and universities, while also cancelling major art, sporting and business events.

Egypt does not appear to have taken any of these types of measures, and Friday's discovery of the 12 cases coincided with the opening day of the Luxor African Film Festival.

"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. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to talk to reporters.

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.

The previous three cases in Egypt were a Chinese and a Canadian national, then an Egyptian who was in Serbia and had stayed for 12 hours in France before arriving in Cairo. Egyptian authorities said Friday that tests on over 2,500 people came back negative for the virus.

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