Six seafarers aboard a French-operated container ship have fallen ill during a voyage from China to Egypt, raising concerns that they could be the first reported mariners to have contracted the new coronavirus strain originating in Wuhan.
According to Sri Lankan media, six crewmembers aboard the container ship CMA CGM Ural were affected by an illness after calling at Ningbo, Xiamen and Shenzhen in mid-January. Information on the spread of the new coronavirus within China is limited, but in Shenzhen, two suspected cases (out of 12 million local residents) were reported on January 18.
In a statement Wednesday, CMA CGM said that it is in constant contact with the CMA CGM Ural and that all necessary measures to ensure appropriate medical follow-up have been taken. The International Radio Medical Center (CIRM Roma) has confirmed that the entire crew is in good health, the carrier said.
As of Tuesday, the virus has infected about 4,500 people in China and killed about 106. About 7,000 additional cases are suspected. Several dozen confirmed cases have been reported outside of China, but no fatalities.
According to the World Health Organization, patients with the 2019-nCoV coronavirus strain show a wide range of symptoms. Most seem to experience a mild form of the disease, but about 20 percent appear to progress to more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, respiratory failure and in some cases death.
Both WHO and the CDC have offered to deploy disease control specialists to assist in China. On Tuesday, WHO said that it has received permission from Chinese president Xi Jinping to send a delegation of health experts to consult on the best means of controlling the virus’ spread.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has advised Americans to forego all nonessential travel to China. In addition, U.S. border control officials are stepping up passenger screening for travellers arriving from Wuhan, and will be conducting checks of these arrivals at 20 airports and land crossings.
The virus has already had an effect on the maritime sector. Major cruise lines operating in Asia are banning tourists who have been in the city of Wuhan or come from Hebei Province in a bid to prevent an outbreak of coronavirus at sea. Five cruise lines – Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises, Costa Cruises, Genting Cruise Lines and Astro Ocean Cruises – have taken the further step of temporarily suspending some or all of their port calls in China. The Shanghai-homeported Spectrum of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in East Asia, is canceling her sailings on January 27 or January 31 due to the outbreak.