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Coronavirus outbreak hits Norway cruise ship that stopped at dozens of ports: "We have made mistakes"

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A Norwegian cruise ship line halted all trips and apologized Monday for procedural errors after an outbreak of coronavirus on one ship infected at least five passengers and 36 crew members. Health authorities fear the ship could have infected dozens of towns and villages along Norway's western coast.

The 41 people on the MS Roald Amundsen who tested positive have been admitted to the University Hospital of North Norway in Tromsoe, north of the Arctic Circle, where the ship currently is docked.

"A preliminary evaluation shows that there has been a failure in several of our internal procedures," Hurtigruten CEO Daniel Skjeldam said in a statement. He added the company that sails along Norway's picturesque coast between Bergen in the south and Kirkenes in the north is "now in the process of a full review of all procedures, and all aspects of our own handling."

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tromso
The MS Roald Amundsen ship, operated by Norway's Hurtigruten line, leaves a port in Tromso after its crew members were diagnosed with COVID-19, in Tromso, Norway, on August 2, 2020.  Terje Pedersen/NTB Scanpix via REUTERS

The cruise line has contacted passengers who had been on the MS Roald Amundsen for its July 17-24 and July 25-31 trips from Bergen to the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, which is known for its polar bears. There were 209 guests on the first voyage and 178 guests on the second voyage.

All 158 crew members on MS Roald Amundsen have been tested and 122 were negative.

But since the cruise ship line often acts like a local ferry, traveling from port to port along Norway's western coast, the virus may not have been contained onboard. Some passengers disembarked along the route and may have spread the virus to their local communities.

The municipality of Tromsoe is urging anyone who traveled on the ship or had any contact with the ship to get in touch with health authorities. A total of 69 municipalities in Norway have been affected, Norwegian news agency NTB reported.

Its not known how the outbreak began since guests come from all over the world. NTB said 33 of the 36 crew members that have tested positive came from the Philippines and the others came from Norway, France and Germany.

Over the weekend, Skjeldam said cruise ship officials did not know that they should have notified the passengers after the first case was reported Friday, adding that they followed the advice of the ship's doctors.

But Line Vold of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said its advice was to inform passengers and crew as soon as possible so they could monitor their health and go into quarantine if needed.

"We have made mistakes. On behalf of all of us in Hurtigruten, I am sorry for what has happened. We take full responsibility," Skjeldam said.

The Hurtigruten line says the operations of three ships - MS Roald Amundsen, MS Fridtjof Nansen and MS Spitsbergen - have been halted for an indefinite period.

The Tromsoe-based Hurtigruten was one of the first companies to resume sailing after the pandemic hit and started cruises to Norway out of Hamburg, northern Germany, in June with a single ship. It added cruises to Svalbard in July, Norwegian media reported.

In Italy, the Costa Crociere cruise ship line said Sunday three crew members from two ships in Civitavecchia, near Rome, have tested positive for the coronavirus. The cruise company said two assigned to the Costa Deliziosa were hospitalized in good condition, and a third, assigned to the Costa Favolosa, was in isolation on the ship.

The Italian cruise company, which is part of Carnival Corp. said the crews of both ships were being screened ''in view of the possible relaunch of our cruises, as soon as the government gives the authorization.'' The Cabinet is meeting on the matter next Sunday.

Costa Crociere said that all crew members were tested for the virus before leaving their countries, then undergo a second test once they arrive in Italy, after which they are put under a two-week monitoring period.

Cruise lines stopped sailing in mid-March after several high-profile coronavirus outbreaks at sea. More than 710 people fell ill aboard Carnival's Diamond Princess cruise ship while it was quarantined off Japan and 13 people died.

A German cruise ship last week set sail from Hamburg, testing procedures for how cruise ships can operate safely during the pandemic. The ship sailed with less than 50% capacity and only went on a four-day trip at sea with no stops at other ports.

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