As Canadians return home from Westerdam cruise, health officials urge them to self-isolate

Two Canadians who were aboard a cruise ship that was refused entry to several countries before docking in Cambodia last week received an unusual greeting when they returned to Canada Sunday — border agents were waiting at their gate, requesting they put on masks.

Stephen Hansen and his wife were among 271 Canadians who had been stuck aboard the Westerdam cruise ship that eventually docked in Cambodia on Friday, allowing passengers to disembark.

But not long after, an 83-year old American passenger tested positive for COVID-19, the coronavirus, raising concerns that other passengers may have been infected. 

At Vancouver International Airport, the Surrey, B.C., couple were asked to don masks, but weren’t told to isolate themselves.

“We were asked a few questions and filled out an immigration form, and they very nicely helped us bypass the usual lineups and let us out the door,” Hansen said.

‘We’re feeling fine’

Now, Canada’s public health agency is asking all those passengers from the Westerdam who are returning to Canada to isolate themselves for 14 days after they return, and to report to local public health authorities within 24 hours of returning home to be monitored for symptoms of the COVID‑19

In a statement Sunday, Tammy Jarbeau, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada said Westerdam passengers will undergo further examination and screening and will be provided with information. 

The Westerdam cruise ship left Hong Kong on February 1, with several stops planned before ending in Japan. But the ship was turned away by five different countries over fears of the coronavirus.

It wasn’t the vacation Hansen was expecting. “It was supposed to be a 30-day bucket list tour.

“It wasn’t as planned or hoped for but I guess in another way it’s the journey of a lifetime so lots of stories.”

Initially, Holland America, which operates the cruise, said there was no one was sick on its ship.

Stephen Hansen and his wife aboard the Westerdam cruise ship. The couple says apart from being stuck at sea, the cruise was great. (Stephen Hansen/Submitted)

The ordeal ended for most passengers when Cambodia agreed to let guests disembark on Friday..One of the passengers who got off the ship was an American woman who then flew to Malaysia. She has since tested positive for COVID-19 and that has posed a concern for health experts concerned about the spread of the illness.

University of Toronto infectious disease researcher Dr. Anna Banerji told CBC Sunday afternoon passengers should be quarantined, citing the passenger who tested positive for the virus.

Banerj said the use of quarantine has proven effective in the past including during the SARS outbreak and said it should be used until a vaccine can be made for the virus.

“It’s concerning to me that there’s a passenger on this cruise line that tested positive for coronavirus and the fact that this cruise line was not quarantined that makes other passengers at risk.”

Passenger John Miller from Seattle, Wash., is overwhelmed with excitement as he disembarks from the MS Westerdam cruise ship after being stranded for two weeks. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

Hansen said he didn’t know it was confirmed that an American woman had the virus until he landed in Canada on Sunday, and spoke with CBC News at the airport.

“I guess on the one hand it’s upsetting because to know that there was one case but we’re feeling fine, we’ve had health scans, temperature scans and we don’t have any concerns for our own health.”

 Watch | Canadian health officials urge Westerdam passengers to stay in their homes:

Canadian passengers who were stuck at sea on the Westerdam cruise ship are starting to come home but after an American passenger tested positive for the coronavirus, Canadian health officials want everyone who was on the ship to self-quarantine. 2:21

He said he’s just glad to be back on Canadian soil. He and his wife had to go through at least three countries before going to Vancouver and worried immigration officials might stop them.

“It felt a little bit like that movie Argo where you’re trying to get the Iranian hostages out.”

Hansen had praise for the crew on board and said aside from being stuck at sea and having “mounting anxiety,” during the ordeal the rest of the trip was great and included good food and entertainment.

Holland America said in a statement no other guests or crew have reported any symptoms of the illness. The company said passengers who’ve already returned home will be contacted by health officials.