Westerdam passenger from Cambodia confirmed as Malaysia’s 22nd COVID-19 case (video) *update 3

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An 83-year-old American woman who was among 145 people to disembark the cruise ship MS Westerdam at Cambodia’s Sihanoukville port on Friday was today (Feb 15) confirmed as Malaysia’s 22nd COVID-19 case.

Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen greets passengers disembarking from the Westerdam on Friday
Cambodia Prime Minister Hun Sen greets passengers disembarking from the Westerdam on Friday Webmaster 2

The woman, along with her husband who has so far tested negative despite exhibiting symptoms, flew to Kuala Lumpur on Friday after the ship docked amidst much fanfare after being denied berthing rights at five other ports.

In a statement issued Saturday afternoon, Malaysia’s health ministry said the woman was detected by airport screening on arrival and transferred to the Sungai Buloh Hospital.

A test taken on Friday was returned Saturday with a positive result for the nCoV-2019 virus and the woman is now in a stable condition in the isolation ward, the statement said.

Prior to docking at Sihanoukville port samples from 20 passengers were flown by helicopter to Phnom Penh were they were reportedly tested at the Institut Pasteur du Cambodge (IPC).

Cambodia’s Ministry of Health (MoH) has approved IPC as a COVID-19 testing laboratory. However, it is not one of the 16 World Health Organization (WHO) appointed global reference laboratories for COVID-19 testing.

Dr Laurence Baril, director of IPC, refused to discuss the laboratories capabilities and capacity for testing for the nCoV-2019 virus, referring all inquiries to the Cambodia MOH. Cambodia’s MOH did not respond to inquiries.

According to the WHO, IPC uses protocols developed and validated by Charite Group Institute of Virology, Germany, and Hong Kong University.

The protocols, which require multiple steps to complete, are posted on the WHO COVID-19 interim technical guidance website. It is not known whether the woman in Kuala Lumpur was among those who provided samples for testing prior to disembarking.

More dangerous than thought

The news comes as evidence accumulates internationally highlighting the virility of the novel coronavirus (nCoV-2019), with a report by the Los Alamos National Laboratory estimating the reproductive number (R0) (the number of people infected by each confirmed case) at a staggeringly high 4.7 – 6.6.

The second and more deadly wave of the 1918 Spanish Flu which infected some 500 million people and killed about 50 million over a three month period had an R0 of 3.75.

Additionally, researchers in Germany have found that related coronaviruses are capable of surviving on hard surfaces at room temperature for up to nine days. By comparison the measles virus is capable of surviving for just two hours. Cambodia’s Minister of Health, and its Minister of Interior, however, have both claimed without producing evidence that the nCoV-2019 virus can not live in Cambodia’s hot temperature.

Yesterday the WHO warned that that nCoV-2019 is capable of being spread through the air, while there is increasing evidence that the maximum incubation period might be up to double the currently thought 14-days.

Up to midnight February 14 there had been 67,100 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,526 deaths, while 8,193 people have been treated and discharged. Based on completed cases the case fatality rate is 16 per cent.


Update: This story was last updated at 10:52 local time on February 24, 2020: Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MFAIC)  today issued a statement that all 2,257 passengers from the MS Westerdam had subsequently tested negative for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, including the American passenger who reportedly tested positive twice in Malaysia.

According to the statement, the tests were performed by the US Center for Disease Control (US-CDC), the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF), and the World Health Organization (WHO)

In earlier updates, on Sunday, February 17, 2020, Malaysian authorities responded to the public demands by Cambodia’s MOH and the ship’s owner, Holland America Line, for additional testing to confirm the result, announcing a subsequent tests had also returned positive for the SARS-COV-2 virus (the official name for the nCoV-2019 virus).

In Cambodia the MOH went as far as labelling the Malaysian result as an “initial result only”. Six other passengers from the MS Westerdam were allowed to continue their journey home yesterday, after their test results returned negative. The remaining 137 had already returned to their respective homes.

Doubling-down on national health safety, Malaysian authorities announced that no further passengers from the MS Westerdam will be permitted to transit the country on their way home. Three chartered flights that were scheduled to bring more passengers from the ship have been canceled. A previous update added additional detail on the infected woman’s detection.



Feature video Global News 




  • US woman from cruise ship is latest Covid-19 victim (FMT News)
  • No passengers of Westerdam allowed to leave the ship until test of specimens is released (Khmer Times)
  • Cambodia’s Health Minister: No Signs of Covid-19 Infection among Passengers of Westerdam (Fresh News)



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John Le Fevre

Thailand editor at AEC News Today

John is an Australian national with more than 40 years experience as a journalist, photographer, videographer, and copy editor.

He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia, with stints in the Middle East, the USA, and England.

He has covered major world events including Operation Desert Shield/ Storm, the 1991 pillage in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2009, 2010, and 2014 Bangkok political protests.

In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.

Prior to AEC News Today he was the deputy editor and Thailand and Greater Mekong Sub-region editor for The Establishment Post, predecessor of Asean Today.

In the mid-80s and early 90s he owned JLF Promotions, the largest above and below the line marketing and PR firm servicing the high-technology industry in Australia. It was sold in 1995.

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