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Race to clear cruise liner of norovirus

By Jamie Morton, Rebecca Quilliam

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Diamond Princess. Photo/Diamond Princess
Diamond Princess. Photo/Diamond Princess

Cleaners are working to sanitise a cruise ship before the next group of passengers boards after dozens of people caught a violent stomach bug on its last voyage.

The Diamond Princess docked in Tauranga yesterday at the end of a cruise that began in Australia 12 days ago.

It is due to leave on its next voyage from Auckland today but check-in will be delayed by about four hours while the ship is thoroughly sterilised after about 60 of 3,500 passengers and crew contracted norovirus on the latest trip.

The highly contagious bug can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy and headaches, among other symptoms.

One passenger, who did not want to be named and is due to leave tomorrow on the two-week cruise to Sydney, had serious reservations about the trip.

"My partner is not in the best of health, we're both superannuitants and this was supposed to be a pleasant, worry-free, hassle-free trip," he said.


The holiday, which cost "thousands of dollars", would not be cancelled because there was no chance of a refund, he said.

Passengers who left the ship in Tauranga yesterday said about 50 cabins had been locked down during the outbreak.

"They were wiping things down the whole time - everyone had a rag and a spray can," said one passenger who did not want to be named.

Chicago tourist Chuck Chidichimo said the captain's announcement that a virus was onboard at first "scared the s*** out of us".

"And ever since they reported it ... they were always wiping things down constantly."

Norovirus can be transmitted through faecally infected food or water, person-to-person contact and surface contact.

Princess Cruises spokesman David Jones said the ship had increased sanitation efforts in order to minimise the impact.

"The cruise industry is absolutely vigilant when it comes to minimising the risk of illness on board and that's why it takes a relatively few cases to be reported for a ship to go to a higher level of sanitation, and that's what we've done."

No refunds would be given to passengers who did not want to take the next cruise because of the low risk of contracting the illness, Mr Jones said. No one who had contracted the virus was given any refund or compensation, he said.

"As in the community, from time to time a small number of people will become ill for reasons that there is a bug out there."

Cruise ship travel agent iCruise said it would get "one in a couple of thousand" queries about getting ill on the voyages, with queries increasing if there was publicity about an outbreak.

House of Travel commercial director Brent Thomas said there would always be concerns from people not wanting to become unwell on their holiday, but a very small number of sailings were affected.

Auckland Regional Public Health Service Medical Officer of Health Simon Baker said they would investigate an outbreak if it was significant or unusual, or if the cruise operator requested it.


Other cruise ship norovirus outbreaks

• More than 200 fell ill on the Queen Mary 2 on a Caribbean cruise, December 2012.

• 143 passengers reportedly contracted the virus on the Voyager of the Seas ship on its Wellington to Sydney leg in November 2012.

• The virus was thought to have affected 60 passengers on the cruise liner Volendam which visited Dunedin in November 2008.

• More than 300 onboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 were hit by the bug in San Francisco in January 2007.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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