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Cruise operator in talks with Mexico to allow ship to dock amid coronavirus fears

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Global cruise operator MSC Cruises was negotiating with Mexican authorities on Wednesday to allow one of its vessels to dock in the Caribbean port of Cozumel, after Jamaica and Grand Cayman barred passengers from disembarking on fears of a coronavirus outbreak, a company spokesman said.

FILE PHOTO: The cruise liners MSC Meraviglia and Mein Schiff 5 (rear) are seen berthed in Valletta’s Grand Harbour, Malta, August 2, 2017. REUTERS/Darrin Zammit Lupi/File Photo

A document from Mexico’s Health Ministry reviewed by Reuters said the cruise ship MSC Meraviglia – carrying more than 6,000 passengers and crew – had been granted “free pratique,” or permission to enter the Cozumel port based on the assessment that it presented no risk of spreading disease.

However, a port official told Reuters that permission for the cruise ship’s passengers to disembark in Cozumel had been revoked.

A spokesman for Swiss-based MSC Cruises said the company had been in conversations all day with relevant health authorities in Mexico. The ship’s medical records show “one single case of common seasonal flu” by a crew member, the company said.

“We have every indication they will follow the long-established international protocols and will review the medical records of the ship when it arrives later tonight in Cozumel,” Luca Biondolillo, chief communications officer for MSC Cruises, told Reuters when asked if permission to dock had been revoked.

Cruise ships have been in the spotlight after confirmed cases of the new coronavirus on the British-registered Diamond Princess approached 700 with three deaths since the ship docked at a Japanese port on Feb. 3.

The company added that the crew member identified with the seasonal flu was isolated for security measures but that no other cases of type A influenza have been discovered on board MSC Meraviglia and no coronavirus infections have been reported on any of its ships.

“The crew member who was diagnosed with common seasonal flu is in a stable condition, receiving anti-viral treatment and medication, and is now free of fever and nearly recovered,” the company said.

Alejandra Aguirre, health secretary of Quintana Roo state, where the Caribbean island of Cozumel is located, said “we have information regarding the patient and fortunately it is not a case of coronavirus.”

The new coronavirus, believed to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, has infected about 80,000 people and killed more than 2,700, most in China.

However, more than 30 countries have since reported cases with major outbreaks in South Korea, Iran and Italy.

Reporting by Anthony Esposito and Diego Ore; Additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz, Ana Isabel Martinez and Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Drazen Jorgic and Bill Berkrot

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