Norway hits cruises with restrictions after virus outbreak

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Aug 04 2020 08:04 AM

OSLO - Norway on Monday announced restrictions on cruises along its coast after dozens were infected with coronavirus on board a ship, as operator Hurtigruten apologized for "mistakes" in infection control.

Ships bearing more than 100 people -- including crew -- will be barred from stopping off or disembarking passengers in Norwegian ports for at least two weeks, Health Minister Bent Hoie said in a press conference.

The decision, which excludes ferries, will affect half a dozen companies with disembarkation permits.

Hurtigruten itself had said all its so-called "expedition" trips will be suspended after a cluster of cases focused on one vessel.

At least 41 people, 36 among the largely Filipino crew and five passengers, tested positive after two July cruises between mainland Norway and the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic circle.

Both trips were aboard the ship MS Roald Amundsen.

The outbreak in Norway, which in recent months had the spread of the COVID-19 under control, led to criticism of Hurtigruten for restarting cruises prematurely.

The company was attacked for being slow to inform the 386 passengers who had traveled on the Amundsen after the first case was confirmed.

"This is a serious situation for everyone involved. We have not been good enough and we have made mistakes," CEO of Hurtigruten, Daniel Skjeldam said in a statement.

The company said a preliminary investigation had shown failures in several "internal procedures," especially health precautions when embarking foreign crew members and slowness to inform passengers.

Norwegian police have also opened an investigation.

The Roald Amundsen is already anchored in Tromso in the far north of the country, and two other expedition ships that were in service, the Fridtjof Nansen and the Spitsbergen, will remain in port "until further notice" after finishing cruises in the next few days.

Hurtigruten's coastal ferries will continue operations.

The Norwegian Institute of Public Health has requested that all passengers on the two concerned cruises should be monitored and tested, as well as quarantining for ten days after their return to shore.

The vast majority are Norwegians, but the manifest also includes some passengers from Germany, Denmark, the UK, the US, France, Estonia and Latvia.

Hurtigruten was one of the first players to resume its activities in a cruise sector heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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