BANGKOK — The government on Thursday sought to dissuade public panic after it permitted a cruise traveling from Hong Kong to dock in the south amid concerns over possible coronavirus infection.
Just two days after Thailand denied MS Westerdam from docking in Chon Buri due to fears that its passengers might have caught the Covid-19, deputy transport minister said the Bahamas-operated cruise MV Seabourn Ovation was allowed a port call since it does not carry passengers from high-risk countries.
“This case is not the same as Westerdam which had been denied port calls in Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines,” Atirat Ratanasate said. “All the passengers and crews of Seabourn Ovation are all Europeans, while some of the passengers of MS Westerdam are Chinese nationals.”
In a letter released to the media, the ministry also states that Seabourn Ovation was following its course to dock in Phuket, while Westerdam was not scheduled to dock in Thailand in the first place and therefore had no permission to land on Thai shore.
“I confirm that passengers of Seabourn Ovation are not an at-risk group,” Atirat said. “I have ordered health officials to strictly follow every stage of screening.”
Both ships sailed from Hong Kong. After being refused port entry in Thailand, Westerdam was finally able to dock in Sihanoukville, Cambodia on Wednesday. No one tested positive for the virus on that ship so far either.
The cruise arrived in Phuket on Thursday morning, where it made a 10-hour stop on the resort island before heading to Singapore. Passengers were screened and face masks handed out to them upon their arrival, according to health officials.
However, the ship’s arrival was met with much hysteria on the island itself and on the internet. #SeabournOvation rose to the top trending of Thai Twitter on Thursday morning, where people expressed fears that the ship might have bought the novel virus to Thailand.
“How many infected people and patients will be increased?” user @JustTrack6 tweeted.
“Thailand is not the recycle bin of Southeast Asia!,” user @naughty_witch00 wrote.
Many online also criticized the government for what appeared to be lax screening measures at the port, in which passengers went through temperature checks conducted by officials wearing only gloves and face masks. The government insisted its measures are compliant with the UN’s health agency.
“According to the World Health Organization? Which world may I ask?,” user @Gus_sven commented.
Chief of Disease Control Department Suwanchai Watthanayingcharoenchai said none of the passengers on the Seabourn Ovation were found to have symptoms of the viral infection. He also urged members of the public to remain calm.
“Please don’t panic, these passengers are not patients. The ship only makes a scheduled stop and they have informed us according to the protocol,” Suwanchai said. “We’re not discriminating against anyone, it’s not good to prejudice them.”
Three other cruise ships will make their stop in Phuket for the next two days, officials said.