6,651 people held on cruise ship after passenger develops suspected coronavirus symptoms

About 5,023 passengers and 1,628 crew aboard Costa Cruises’ Costa Smeralda ship were being held in an Italian port after a passenger from Macau, China, came down with flu-like symptoms on Wednesday night amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

A Costa Cruises spokesperson confirmed to Fox News on Thursday that sanitary protocol has been activated after a 54-year-old woman fell ill aboard the Smeralda ship, which had sailed from Mallorca, Spain, to Civitavecchia on a weeklong Mediterranean cruise.

The Costa Smeralda cruise ship is docked in the Civitavecchia port near Rome, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

The Costa Smeralda cruise ship is docked in the Civitavecchia port near Rome, Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

The spokesperson said that the sick passenger was placed in isolation in the ship’s hospital last night along with her travel companion, amid concerns that she may be infected with the deadly coronavirus during the global outbreak. The woman’s companion has no symptoms, The Associated Press reports.

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As of Thursday morning, Smeralda passengers are being kept on board, pending checks, to determine the type of virus. According to The Telegraph, if the woman indeed has the coronavirus, passengers and crew could be quarantined for two weeks aboard the ship.

“As soon as the suspected case was detected, the Medical Team on board immediately activated all the relevant health procedures to promptly isolate and manage the clinical condition,” the Costa rep said in a statement. “The Health Authority has been immediately notified and is now on board to conduct all the pertinent measures.”

“It is our utmost priority to ensure the health and safety of passengers and crew,” the spokesperson continued. “The Company is at complete disposal of the Health Authority and their indication will be strictly applied. Costa Cruises [will] continue to apply the relevant national policies and health developments, as per World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indications.”

Passengers wait aboard the Costa Smeralda cruise ship, docked in the Civitavecchia port near Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Passengers wait aboard the Costa Smeralda cruise ship, docked in the Civitavecchia port near Rome. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

In the hours since, Italian health authorities are screening the 5,023 passengers and 1,628 crew members for possible infection, during what was scheduled to be a walk-off in Rome on Thursday.

The ship is docked north of the Eternal City, per The Associated Press, while passengers share photos of the vessel's crowded quarters on Twitter.

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At the port of Civitavecchia, Italian Coast Guard Cmdr. Vincenzo Leone described the situation aboard the Smeralda as “under control.”

“All the planned mechanisms were activated. Health authorities are on board, doing checks,” Leone said. “The situation is under control. There’s a security cordon on the dock.”

Italian health authorities are screening passengers aboard after a passenger from Macao came down with flu-like symptoms amid the global scare about a new virus. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Italian health authorities are screening passengers aboard after a passenger from Macao came down with flu-like symptoms amid the global scare about a new virus. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

As of Thursday morning, the viral disease has killed at least 170 people and sickened at least 7,711 others.

Over 50 million people remain under a government lockdown in central China, while sports, transport and cultural events have been canceled across the country.

Passengers are being kept on board pending check to determine the type of virus. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

Passengers are being kept on board pending check to determine the type of virus. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

The number of cases confirmed in mainland China has now surpassed those that were sickened during a SARS outbreak in 2002-2003. However, the coronavirus death toll still remains lower than the 348 people in China who were killed by SARS.

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In recent days, cruise companies including Royal Caribbean, MSC Cruises and Seabourn Cruise Lines have all canceled scheduled departures from China, as officials expand efforts to contain the viral disease in the Wuhan area, the central Chinese city where the outbreak first emerged.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.