As Canadians return home from Westerdam cruise, health officials urge them to self-isolate

Two Canadians who were aboard a cruise ship that was refused entry to several countries before docking in Cambodia last week received an unusual greeting when they returned to Canada Sunday: border agents were waiting at their gate, requesting they don masks.

Stephen Hansen and his wife were among 271 Canadians who had been stuck aboard the Westerdam cruise ship that eventually docked in Cambodia on Friday, allowing passengers to disembark.

But not long after, an 83-year old American passenger tested positive for COVID-19, the coronavirus, raising concerns that other passengers could have been infected. Initially, Holland America, which operates the cruise, said there was no one was sick on its ship.

At Vancouver International Airport, the Hansens, of Surrey, B.C., were asked to wear masks, but weren’t told to isolate themselves.

“We were asked a few questions and filled out an immigration form, and they very nicely helped us bypass the usual lineups and let us out the door,” Hansen said.

‘We’re feeling fine’

Now, Canadian health officials are asking passengers who were on the Westerdam and who are returning to Canada to isolate themselves for 14 days after they return, and to report to local public health authorities within 24 hours to be monitored for symptoms of the COVID‑19

In a statement Sunday, Tammy Jarbeau, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada said Westerdam passengers will undergo further examination and screening.

The statement said Canadian passengers from the MS Westerdam were identified so that they would be screened when they returned to Canada. The Canadian passengers will be asked to inform authorities where they will be, so public health authorities can follow up.

The statement said some travellers returned before these measures were put in place. Health officials and the Canada Border Services Agency are working together to identify those individuals who will be contacted, the statement said.

Cruise didn’t go as planned

The Westerdam cruise ship left Hong Kong on February 1, with several stops planned before ending in Japan. But the ship was turned away by five different countries over fears of the coronavirus.

It wasn’t the vacation Hansen was expecting. “It was supposed to be a 30-day bucket list tour,” he said Sunday.

“It wasn’t as planned or hoped for but I guess in another way it’s the journey of a lifetime so lots of stories.”

Stephen Hansen and his wife aboard the Westerdam cruise ship. The couple says apart from being stuck at sea, the cruise was great. (Submitted by Stephen Hansen)

Hansen said he didn’t know that an American woman had the virus until he landed in Canada on Sunday, and spoke with CBC News at the airport.

“I guess on the one hand it’s upsetting because to know that there was one case but we’re feeling fine, we’ve had health scans, temperature scans and we don’t have any concerns for our own health.”

The ordeal ended for most passengers when Cambodia agreed to let guests disembark on Friday..One of the passengers who got off the ship was an American woman who then flew to Malaysia. She has since tested positive for COVID-19 and that has posed a concern for health experts concerned about the spread of the illness.

Passenger John Miller from Seattle, Wash., is overwhelmed with excitement as he disembarks from the MS Westerdam cruise ship after being stranded for two weeks. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

University of Toronto infectious disease researcher Dr. Anna Banerji told CBC Sunday afternoon that passengers should be quarantined.

Banerj said the use of quarantine has proved effective in the past, including during the SARS outbreak, and said it should be used until a vaccine can be made for the virus.

“It’s concerning to me that there’s a passenger on this cruise line that tested positive for coronavirus and the fact that this cruise line was not quarantined that makes other passengers at risk.”

Watch | Canadian health officials urge Westerdam passengers to stay in their homes:

Canadian passengers who were stuck at sea on the Westerdam cruise ship are starting to come home but after an American passenger tested positive for the coronavirus, Canadian health officials want everyone who was on the ship to self-quarantine. 2:21

He said he’s just glad to be back on Canadian soil. He and his wife had to go through at least three countries before going to Vancouver and worried immigration officials might stop them.

“It felt a little bit like that movie Argo where you’re trying to get the Iranian hostages out.”

Hansen had praise for the crew on board and said apart from being stuck at sea and having “mounting anxiety,” during the ordeal the rest of the trip was great.

Holland America said in a statement no other guests or crew have reported symptoms of the illness. The company said passengers who’ve already returned home will be contacted by health officials.

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