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Westerdam cruise ship passengers test negative for virus: Cambodia gov't

A bus waits for passengers to disembark from the Westerdam cruise ship at the port of Sihanoukville in Cambodia, on Feb. 15, 2020. (Kyodo)

PHNOM PENH (Kyodo) -- Cambodia's Health Ministry said Wednesday that 781 passengers and crew who remain in Cambodia after disembarking from the Westerdam cruise ship since last Friday tested negative for the new coronavirus.

On Tuesday alone, more than 100 of those cleared passengers left Cambodia by different commercial airlines including those to transit countries such as Japan and Thailand, according to government sources.

The testing was conducted in cooperation by World Health Organization, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Pasteur Institute in Cambodia and foreign embassies, the ministry said in a statement.

The government is working with concerned authorities and airlines in order to fly other cleared passengers back home as soon as possible, the statement added.

Many airlines had refused to take them, fearing spread of the virus after Malaysia announced that a U.S. woman who flew to Malaysia last week after disembarking from the Westerdam tested positive.

The Cambodian government allowed the ship, carrying 1,455 passengers and 802 crew, to dock last Thursday in the southwestern port of Sihanoukville on humanitarian grounds, after it had been turned away by Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Guam and Thailand.

At least about 1,300 people have already disembarked. Among them are four Japanese who returned home on Tuesday.

The Westerdam departed Hong Kong on Feb. 1 for a 14-day East Asia cruise that was to end in Yokohama.

Before giving the ship a green light to dock in Sihanoukville, Cambodian health authorities collected samples from 20 passengers who had been ill, but all tested negative for the new coronavirus. The 83-year old woman who tested positive in Malaysia was not among them.

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