The 6,000 passengers and crew aboard the Costa Smeralda cruise ship can breathe a sigh of relief: They can finally disembark after a passenger of Chinese nationality who had been sick, was diagnosed with the flu – not the new coronavirus that originated in Wuhan, China.
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The cruise line confirmed that Italian health authorities had diagnosed the passenger, a 54-year-old woman, with the common flu, a person familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly, told USA TODAY.
The entire ship had been in lockdown in Civitavecchia for most of the day Thursday as passengers waited for the initial results of tests carried out by a medical team from Rome's Lazzaro Spallanzani National Institute for Infectious Diseases.
News of the quarantined shipcame on the same day that the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a global emergency. Thursday also saw the confirmation of the first U.S. case of human-to-human transmission of the virus.
The source added that the cruise line has amended the Smeralda's itinerary as a result of the day lost to the quarantine. The Smeralda will skip Friday's planned port call in La Spezia and remain docked in Civitavecchia, about 50 miles northwest of Rome, until Friday evening before heading back to Savona, Italy, for disembarkation.
The woman and her traveling companion reportedly boarded the ship on Jan. 25 in Savona, and she developed a fever and had difficulty breathing, according to the source.
Because the ship had operated under a sanitary protocol to isolate the sick passengers, none of the passengers or crew were allowed to disembark until the test results came back, the source said.
Cruise ship stock prices took a hit Thursday following news of the cruise ship's lockdown. No one on board tested positive for coronavirus, but that didn’t stop luxury liner stocks from tumbling.
James Hardiman, the managing director of equity research for Wedbush Securities, told Yahoo Finance’s On The Move that by his estimate, every lost voyage accounts for a loss of $3 million to $4 million in revenue.
Fears about traveling by sea took a heavy toll on stocks. Share prices of the world’s largest cruise operator, Royal Caribbean, fell 1.48% as of 3:31 p.m. EST on Thursday. Carnival Cruises saw even more of a drop at 3.35%. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings dropped 2.23% and Viking Line ABP, the company that owns Viking Cruises, saw a stock loss of 1.56%.
The cruise ship woes are a double whammy for travel industries, with many airlines canceling flights to China and other Eastern destinations.
What is a sanitary protocol?
Costa Cruises' sanitary protocol steps, which are under the auspices of the Italian health authorities, are unclear. But for U.S. vessels, the Centers for Disease Control procedure for suspected cases of influenza-like illnesses (people with a fever over 100℉ and a cough or sore throat) is to notify the ship infirmary as soon as possible and isolate the sick passenger or crew member in their cabin until at least 24 hours after their fever dissipates.
If the sick person must leave the cabin, he or she is advised to and stay at least six feet from other people and wear a surgical mask (or cover the nose and mouth with tissues if no masks are available).
If it becomes necessary to take the person to a hospital, the facility should be warned in advance of the patient's arrival.
After disembarking, the CDC recommends that the sick individual remain at home or a hotel near the port until at least 24 hours after their fever breaks before traveling on further.
Passengers and crew who come into contact with the sick person are advised to monitor their own health for up to five days after exposure.
Costa cancels nine China cruises out of coronavirus concerns
Costa, which is owned by Carnival, has already canceled nine different sailings to China.
Since Jan. 20, there have been 7,700 cases of coronavirus reported worldwide, and 170 people have died from the illness, according to Chinese officials.
So far, there have been five confirmed cases in the United States: two in California and one in Illinois, Arizona and Washington State, respectively.
Europe has 10 confirmed cases: five in France, four in Germany and one in Finland.
Meanwhile, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has signed a decree closing his country's 2,600-mile-long border with China, Sputnik News, a domestic media outlet, and the Associated Press reported Thursday. All train traffic between the two countries was also stopped Thursday, except for one train connecting Moscow and Beijing.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the list of countries outside of China and the U.S. with confirmed cases includes Australia, Cambodia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam.
WHO declares coronavirus a global health emergency
On Thursday afternoon, the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a global emergency, reversing their call from a week ago. A week ago, there were 800 diagnosed cases in China and 25 dead; now there are 7,7111 confirmed cases and more than 170 dead. Three are 98 cases in 18 countries.
"The main reason for this declaration is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries," said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO.
A week ago, the WHO said it hadn't seen any human-to-human transmission outside of China. Now the first U.S. case of human-to-human transmission has been confirmed. The husband of the second diagnosed U.S. case – a Chicago woman who returned from Wuhan, China on Jan. 13 – has developed symptoms despite not having traveled there with her. Both are hospitalized.
“We understand this may be concerning, but based on what we know now, our assessment remains that the immediate risk to the American public is low,” said Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Upon returning from Beijing, The WHO's chief of emergencies, Michael Ryan, estimated the death rate of the new virus at 2% but said the figure was very preliminary. With fluctuating numbers of cases and deaths, scientists are only able to produce a rough estimate of the fatality rate, and it’s likely many milder cases of the virus are being missed.
In comparison, the SARS virus killed about 10% of the people it infected. The new virus is from the coronavirus family, which includes those that can cause the common cold as well as more serious illnesses such as SARS and MERS.
Contributing: Chelsey Cox, Charles Trepany