Many stuck on cruise off Australia over COVID-19 fears

Thousands stuck on cruise ships off Australia over coronavirus fears

Thousands of passengers on three cruise ships were stranded off Australia's west coast Wednesday as officials refused to let them land to avoid repeating the "utter disaster" of a previous cruise-related coronavirus surge.

The Artania and Magnifica were anchored off the West Australian port of Fremantle with a third, the Vasco de Gama, on its way.

"There are no circumstances we will allow passengers or crew to wander the streets in our state," West Australian Premier Mark McGowan told media on Wednesday.

The Magnifica, carrying around 1,700 passengers, departed Fremantle Tuesday after being allowed to refuel, but was forced to turn back when told it could not dock in Dubai.

Meanwhile health officials were testing some of the more than 800 passengers on board the Artania for coronavirus after the ship reported 25 people had a respiratory illness.

A string of virus cases have been connected with cruise ship arrivals in Australia. The latest cluster came from the Ruby Princess, which let passengers off in central Sydney last week, sparking at least 133 cases and one death.

"We've seen what has happened in Sydney harbour, it was a complete and utter disaster," McGowan said.

A quarter of the cases in West Australia are connected with cruise ship arrivals. Passengers on the Magnifica had already been blocked from disembarking at several Australian ports, passenger Sheila Feuerstein told local radio station 6PR.

"We're all very happy to be on the ship because it's 14 days now since we left the ship, in Wellington, we've passed the quarantine time now," Feuerstein said.

The 800 Australians on the Vasco de Gama, due to arrive on Friday, would be quarantined on Rottnest Island but its 150 other passengers would have to wait onboard for travel arrangements to be made.

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"They will not be allowed to disembark at any time unless it is to travel under strict supervision directly to the airport, or they need urgent medical attention to survive," McGowan said.

The Vasco de Gama's operator Cruise and Maritime Voyages said there were no health issues on board and passengers would have been at sea for 13 days upon arrival.

"We thank our guests and crew for their patience during this time, as we know this will be incredibly disheartening for them," managing director Dean Brazier said in a statement.

Rottnest -- a former Aboriginal prison site and a tourist hotspot in recent times -- has been emptied to allow for safe quarantine.

Australia's confirmed coronavirus cases neared 2,400 on Wednesday, with eight deaths since the outbreak began. 

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