At least 40 people infected with COVID-19 on cruises to Norway amid scramble to find passengers

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OSLO (Reuters) – At least 40 passengers and crew of a luxury cruise liner have tested positive for COVID-19 and authorities are still trying to trace a number of passengers from two recent trips to the Arctic public health officials in Norway said on Sunday.

The ship MS Roald Amundsen, operated by the Norwegian line Hurtigruten, is seen after its crew members were diagnosed with coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a port in Tromso, Norway, August 2, 2020. Terje Pedersen / NTB Scanpix / via REUTERS

Four crew members of the MS Roald Amundsen were hospitalized on Friday when the ship arrived at the port of Tromsoe and were subsequently diagnosed with respiratory illness. Tests showed that 32 of 158 other staff were also infected.

While the crew was quarantined on the ship, the 178 passengers who arrived on Friday were allowed to disembark before anyone was diagnosed, triggering a complex operation to locate them in order to contain any potential spread.

So far, four of the 387 combined passengers traveling on the ship on two separate cruises since July 17 have been found to be carriers of the virus, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI) and the municipality of Tromsoe said.

“We expect more infections to be detected in connection with this outbreak,” said Line Vold, a senior FHI executive, adding that passengers have been advised to self-isolate.

The Hurtigruten Line, owner of the MS Roald Amundsen along with 15 other ships, became in mid-June the first to return an ocean-going cruise ship to service after a three-month hiatus due to the pandemic.

Asked later on Sunday whether authorities had now located and tested all potentially infected people aboard the cruise liner, an FHI spokesperson said: “Messages have been sent to all passengers. We now seek to verify that the information has been received and understood. ”

Of the infected crews, 32 were from the Philippines while the rest were of Norwegian, French and German nationality, operator Hurtigruten said.

“We are working hard to contain this epidemic in order to limit its spread in the general population,” Tromsoe Municipality Chief Medical Officer Kathrine Kristoffersen told a press conference.

At the start of the coronavirus epidemic in early 2020, thousands of passengers found themselves stranded on cruise ships in waters in Asia, the United States and elsewhere, leading operators to cancel their travels and trigger massive layoffs.

With measures such as reduced passenger capacity, social distancing and strict hygiene rules, Hurtigruten aimed to persuade customers to return to the cruise industry.

MS Roald Amundsen is due to sail around the British Isles in September, docking in ports in England and Scotland.

Report by Terje Solsvik; Montage by Raissa Kasolowsky

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